Giants hold off floundering Sharks in NZNBL see-sawer

IN a match that went right down to the wire, Nelson Giants bounced back from a loss last round to defeat Southland Sharks by six-points in a see-sawing New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) thriller. By contrast, the Sharks slumped to their fourth consecutive loss after being 2-1 to start the season, and now sit seventh, with the Giants moving up to fourth spot on the 2022 ladder. The game saw multiple lead changes, and after the Sharks lead for the majority of the game – including throughout the final term, but it was the Giants who finished stronger to run out 96-90 victors in a memorable win.

SOUTHLAND SHARKS 25 | 29 | 16 | 20 (90)
NELSON GIANTS 20 | 22 | 30 | 24 (96)

Southland Sharks started off the game in great form, racing out to a 25-20 lead. The Giants closed the deficit to one point at the five minute mark of the term when Trey Mourning made a jumper, but the work of Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape (seven points) in particular set the tone for the home side. Throughout the first half, Winston Shepard III was performing strongly for the Sharks, while Riley Bensemann was going his best to get his Giants side back into it.

The lead got out to 12 points as Mojave King was heating up, and though Sam Dempster and Samuel Thompson closed the gap to nine points with 21 seconds left, a foul on Dom Kelman-Poto in the dying seconds sent him to the line and he nailed all three free throws to make it that 12-point buffer, 54-42.

Nelson started the third term off on the right note, with Dempster, Mourning and Jarrod West leading the Giants to score eight of the first 10 points and halve the deficit. The teams traded blows, but the Giants kept building steam. With two minutes left, West hit a three-pointer to hand the Giants their first lead since the opening term, and while Shepard responded to take it back, another three – this time from Mourning delivered the blow to hand the visitors the lead at the last break by just two points, 72-70.

It triggered a fascinating final term, with Kelman-Poto continuing his great game, handing his side back the lead a few minutes into the contest shooting from everywhere. When King was able to make a layup at the four-minute mark – when neither team had managed to score for a couple of minutes – the Sharks lead by six points. Then the Giants stormed home. Nic Trathen drilled two triples either side of a Thompson long-range bomb to hand the Giants a three-point lead. Though Leusogi-Ape responded, the Giants kept pressing, and through some Mourning free throws and a West triple, the Giants had a six-point lead with 79 seconds on the clock.

The final 30 seconds was frantic, with Leusogi-Ape and Kelman-Poto both able to reduce the deficit back to four, but on both occasions, Thompson and Dempster were able to nail their responding free throws off the deliberate fouls, to ensure the 96-90 victory.

Thompson lead all-comers with 23 points – nine of 14 from the field – as well as nine rebounds. He shared the load with Mourning (21 points, 10 rebounds and two assists) and Dempster (10 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals) who both picked up double-doubles, while West (16 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals) and Trathen (13 points, four rebounds) both hit double-figure points.

For the Sharks, King managed a team-high 21 points as well as three rebounds, but it was the work of Shepard (13 points, 13 rebounds and six assists) and Kelman-Poto (18 points, five rebounds and two assists) who did a lot of damage. Leusogi-Ape came off the bench to contribute 19 points in 19 minutes, nailing seven of 10 from the field, including three of six from long-range.

Nelson Giants take on Otago Nuggets tomorrow, while Southland Sharks next front up on June 9 against Hawke’s Bay Hawks.

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