IT was a long time coming, but Southland Sharks – who started the season 2-1 – snapped a seven-game losing streak from that point with a thrilling one-point victory over Canterbury Rams last night. The Rams – who were missing their entire coaching staff due to COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols – had their chances, and even looked like being in control in the third term, but could not finish the game off and the Sharks saluted, 103-102 at ILT Stadium.
SOUTHLAND SHARKS 28 | 24 | 29 | 22 (103)
CANTERBURY RAMS 22 | 32 | 25 | 23 (102)
Southland Sharks were desperate to buck a trend of seven straight losses coming into the Round 9 contest, having started the season with promise, but had fallen into a hole since. Canterbury Rams were up and down across the course of 2022, which was reflected in their 6-5 record to-date. The home team started strong in a game where the margin would never hit double-digits and the lead change multiple times just when it looked like on side was getting the upper hand. At quarter time, the Sharks lead by six points, 28-22, with the advantage being the highest lead of the opening 10 minutes. Alonzo Burton and Mojave King started the game on fire with a couple of triple each, but Sunday Dech‘s six early points had the Rams within touch.
It was King’s three-pointer at the six and a half minute mark of the second term that extended the lead out to to seven, and then a Winston Shepard free throw making what would be a game-high eight-point buffer (39-31). Larry Austin and Taylor Britt were both trying hard for the visitors, as they, Dech and Joe Cook-Green chewed into the deficit, before Matthew Moyer and Walter Brown put the Rams in front with 40 seconds on the clock. Burton would level the scores again, but a two-point jumper from Cook-Green would hand the Rams a two-point lead at half-time.
The teams kept trading blows in the third term, with Dech and Max Darling combining to push the Rams lead out to a team-high six points. Daishon Knight scored for the Sharks, and then, after a timeout, the Rams again built a lead courtesy of Britt and Austin, and it was up to seven, 75-68. An immediate response from Shepard in the form of a three, followed up by a King layup with two minutes on the clock regained some momentum, but Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape important layup with 70 seconds left, followed by back-to-back baskets from King – including a commanding dunk – put his side back in front. Scoring 13 of the last 17 points – and a buzzer-beating dagger from King – put the Sharks in front by two at the final break, 81-79.
Both teams traded baskets in the last quarter, with the teams being level with 5:46 on the clock after a successful Moyer alley oop. Burton and Knight responded to give the Sharks a four-point buffer. Britt was sent to the line to get within two points, and Knight and Mike Karena traded baskets. At the 3:46 mark, the Sharks lead 100-98. To everyone’s surprise, just seven more points would be scored as the pressure ramped up, and a combination of missed shots and turnovers plagued the sides. With 96 seconds on the clock, Austin levelled the scores at 100-apiece. Just 25 seconds later, Burton would nail what would end up being a match-winning triple. Britt would respond with a layup not long after. When Knight missed his chance with 27 seconds on the clock to seal the game for the Sharks, the ball was back in the hands of the Rams, and more specifically Austin. He had a chance, missed, picked up the offensive rebound, took another shot but that two went off, and the Sharks pulled down the rebound as the siren sounded a few seconds later.
King would finish with 26 points – five of nine from three-point range – and two assists in the win. Shepard (15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists) Knight (12 points, 10 assists, two rebounds and two steals) would both pick up double-doubles, while Burton (16 points, two rebounds) was also strong. Leusogi-Ape (12 points, four rebounds and three assists) and Jaylen Gerrand (13 points) wee productive off the bench. For the Rams, Dech top-scored with 18 points, and also picked up three rebounds, whilst Britt (17 points, eight assists, three rebounds and two steals without a turnover was superb. Austin (14 points, 13 rebounds and four assists) helped himself to a double-double, while Darling (16 points, seven rebounds) and Brown (11 points, five rebounds) were also productive off the boards.
Southland Sharks take on top of the table Auckland Tuatara next Friday for Round 10, while Canterbury Rams lock horns with Franklin Bulls on Saturday.