Airs rise after half-time to upset Nuggets

IN one of the upsets of the season, Taranaki Mountainairs grabbed their third New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) win, defeating the in-form Otago Nuggets by 13 points yesterday. The Airs came into the clash with a 2-3 record, whilst the Nuggets were on a five-game winning streak after dropping their first two matches of the year. Otago looked likely to secure the win after the first term, but Taranaki had other ideas, as the Airs produced a 56-37 second half to run away with the 96-83 victory at TSB Stadium.

TARANAKI AIRS 16 | 24 | 26 | 30 (96)
OTAGO NUGGETS 22 | 24 | 19 | 18 (83)

Otago Nuggets started the game as strong favourites, and after the Airs scored the first couple of baskets, it was the visitors who rightly took control of the game to open up a six-point lead the first break. Surprisingly, it only got marginally beyond that in the first half, as the Nuggets remained in front, but never completely able to shake the Airs. After chasing the visitors for the most of the first half, the Airs stepped up late in the second term.

Aaron Bailey-Nowell, Carlin Davison and Anthony Hilliard all scored for seven consecutive points, and to take the 40-37 lead. However a five-point burst from Nikau McCullough, followed by backup baskets from Keith Williams and Jack Andrew re-extended the Nuggets lead back out to six points at the main break.

After the Nuggets were able to stabilise in the opening couple of minutes of the second half, Tai Wynyard and Hilliard, and then Benji Freeman all scored to tie the game up at 50 points apiece. The teams showcased their long-range shooting with Davison making a rare four-point play after being fouled from beyond the arc and making the shot. It became the Airs turn to lead with a five-point buffer opening up, only for Sam Timmins to do his best in closing it down. The Nuggets hit the front as late as the last 30 seconds of the match, before a Richie Rodger landed the Airs the lead 66-65 with a quarter to play.

Both sides needed a hero to stand up in the final term, and that came in the Airs form of Javonte Douglas, who piled on 10 points in the first two and a half minutes to put his side up by eight. McCullough and Williams hit back to draw within a point a minute later, but there was no stopping Douglas. He singlehandedly was taking the game from the Nuggets as he piled on a massive 19 points in the final term – outscoring the entire Nuggets team, to help the Airs to an upset victory, 96-83.

Douglas ended the match with 26 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals, following up the good work of Hilliard (29 points, nine rebounds) with the pair combining for nine triples in the match. Davison (16 points four rebounds and four assists) and Wynyard (10 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and three steals) also reached double-figure points, while Rodger (nine points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals) was handy.

Williams was the dominant scorer for the Nuggets with 28, as well as six rebounds and two steals, while McCullough (19 points, two rebounds and two assists) and Timmins (14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks) also put up good numbers. Withers marginally fell short of an impressive double-double, helping himself to nine points, 13 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Taranaki Airs taking on Wellington Saints on June 5, with the Otago Nuggets clashing with Nelson Giants the day before on June 4.

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