Nuggets hand reigning premiers second loss

AS the reinforcements arrived, so did the Otago Nuggets, winning their first game of the 2022 New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) with a 22-point win over reigning premiers Wellington Saints. The Nuggets came into the game off a 19-point loss to Nelson Giants, the Saints suffered a forgettable 36-point defeat at the hands of the Southland Sharks. Both sides regained some crucial talents, but it was the work of import trio Tahjere McCall, Keith Williams and Todd Withers who won out against the Saints returns of recently-signed import Mike Smith, as well as Tall Blacks Taane Samuel and Jordan Ngatai to secure the 83-61 victory.

OTAGO NUGGETS 25 | 19 | 18 | 21 (83)
WELLINGTON SAINTS 15 | 22 | 12 | 12 (61)

The Nuggets were running hot form the first tip-off, racing to a 10-goal lead at quarter time courtesy of a 25-15 first term. Funnily enough, after being jumped the Saints were competitive, but dropped the first 11 points of the term to not score until Ngatai finally made a lay up at the 4:17 mark to get his side on the board. By that stage Williams was up to five points, and Sam Timmins had recorded four for the Nuggets, the same amount of turnovers the Saints had conceded by that stage of the match.

Having another fast start to the second term, the Nuggets quickly extended the lead out to 18 points in the first three minutes as Nikau McCullough and Josh Aitcheson scored to make it a 36-18 lead. Smith as doing his best by drawing fouls in the paint, but he could not do it alone. As the Nuggets rotated players off, Smith gained that support from Francis Mulvihill and Ngatai as they scored 11 of the next 13 points to draw within nine in the final couple of minutes. A last second triple from Mulvhill actually made it seven points at the final break, with that score being the difference between the sides in the term.

Any hope of a comeback was short lived though, as Timmins piled on eight of the first 11 points in the third term to put the advantage back out to 12 points. Samuel was starting to cook alongside Smith but with Williams supporting Timmins, the Nuggets kept the Saints at arms-length. In a lower scoring term, the Nuggets burst at the start of the quarter proved crucial as they won it 18-12 and it was out to a 13-point buffer at the final break.

The closest the Saints came in the final term was when Rangimarie Dougall-Mita hit a long-range jumper to make it 12 points three minutes into the term. Then the Nuggets slammed the door shut with 13 consecutive points to blow the score out to 81-56. Whilst the Saints reduced the deficit in the final few minutes to score five of the next seven points, they would still go down by a hefty 22.

Otago Nuggets were far better with their shooting accuracy, nailing 53 per cent of their shots from the field, whilst the Saints struggled with just 36 per cent of their chances going in. Whilst the visitors did marginally win the rebounds (38-37), the NuggetS dominated the assists (15-8), steals (15-7) and turnovers (12-21) counts. The key difference was the points in the paint, where Otago put up 60 points, just one shy of the Saints’ entire score, whilst Wellington managed just 18 points in the key. The Nuggets also scored more points from turnovers (20-11) and off their bench (28-16) in a comprehensive performance.

Timmins got the full 10 Most Valuable Player (MVP) votes having thrived off the support of The imports. He put up 26 points – shooting at 72 per cent from the field – as well as three rebounds. Williams (15 points, four rebounds and two assists) and McCall (12 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals) were also prolific, whilst Withers pulled down 10 defensive boards. Smith (15 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals) was the best for the Saints, with supporting acts from the other inclusions, Ngatai (11 points, five rebounds and two assists) and Samuel (14 points, eight rebounds).

Both sides do not play again until next week, with the Otago Nuggets taking on Hawke’s Bay Hawks next Saturday, whilst Wellington Saints will hope to breakthrough for their first win against the undefeated Auckland Tuatara in a blockbuster Round 3 clash.

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