Fuelled by 20 points performances from Liam Thornton and Ana Haku North Harbour were able to defeat Canterbury in the Men’s Final at the 2016 Under 23 National Championships in Tauranga on Saturday.
James Cawthorn opened the scoring for Canterbury but Liam Thornton and Ana Haku drives gave Harbour an early 13-10 lead. A brace of Jordy Jamieson threes were matched by Nathan Campbell but Harbour led 25-17 at quarter-time.
Nathan Curran and Nick Brophy took Harbour into a double figure lead but Canterbury responded through Taylor Britt, sensational in the semi-final against Waikato, and James Levings.
Sam Smith scored in transition and Derek Albertsen landed a corner three to cancel out an identical effort from Thornton.
A fast paced opening half ended with Harbour ahead 45-35, Smith leading all scorers with 15 points.
A brace of Britt jump shots were followed by a couple of Thornton drives as the Harbour lead remained at 10 points. A Thornton put back dunk increased the Harbour advantage although back to back Nathan Campbell baskets excited the sizeable Canterbury supporters club.
Albertsen made a banked jumper but Harbour led 68-55 at the three-quarter mark.
Albertsen then made 9 straight points to open the final quarter proceedings before Haku scored twice for Harbour.
Impressive Junior Tall Black squad member Thornton was sent hobbling to the sideline with an ankle injury but Brophy helped the Harbour effort with a triple, 75-66, with 5:30 to play.
Daniel Mulder countered a Brophy transition basket as Harbour maintained a ten point lead with 3:30 to play and a Haku drive made it 81-69.
Free throws from Smith reduced the advantage to 8 points but the influential Matt Lacey landed a trey that took Harbour to 84-73 with less than two to play.
Levings made it 84-75 but a foul sent Haku to the foul line on consecutive offenses.
Taylor made a basket but with time running out Canterbury were forced to foul and Tournament MVP Haku completed the victory with a series of free throws.
Harbour coach Mitch Richmond stepped in at short notice for original coach Tony Webster (unavailable due to work commitments) and he was delighted with his team’s performance.
“It was a complete team effort from our veterans Jordy Jamieson, Matt Lacey and Ana
Haku, who were hugely influential, through to our younger players like Nathan Curran and Liam Thornton,” said the Harbour coach.
Richmond won the U23 title as a player in 2013 but he found coaching to be a lot more intense. “It is definitely more pressure but I felt with the experience I have gained as a player and coach and the back up of Jaylen (assistant coach Jaylen Gerrand) and the senior players held me in good stead,” he said.
Final Score: Harbour 93 – Thornton 21, Haku 20/12, Jamieson 12, Brophy 11, Curran 7/8, Lacey 7 Canterbury 81 – Smith 21/10, Albertsen 16, Britt 15, Campbell 11, Levings 7
Hutt Valley defeated Waikato 82-67 in the 3rd/4th play-off game.
Referees – Leon Demetriades (Canterbury), Oceen Reed (North Harbour), Sam Pan (Wellington)