A DOMINANT third term is all it took for Southland Sharks to put away Franklin Bulls and end the Bulls’ hopes of a Final 6 finish in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL). The Sharks were on the ropes throughout the first half, trailing by 13 points at half-time, but a barnstorming 33-15 third quarter saw them take a five-point lead into the last quarter and then hold their nerve to play the role of party pooper. Though not able to make the playoffs themselves, the Sharks ended the Bulls’ hopes of reaching the post-season series with the four-point win, 81-77.
SOUTHLAND SHARKS 16 | 14 | 33 | 18 (81)
FRANKLIN BULLS 23 | 20 | 15 | 19 (77)
Coming into the final round match, Final 6 aspirants Franklin Bulls travelled to the deep south to lock horns with the already down and out Southland Sharks. The game started as one might expect with the visitors piling on 23 points to 16 in the opening term at ILT Stadium. The lead just kept growing util the half, with a match-high 13 points at the main break. Considering the Bulls were minus star shooter Corey Webster as well as starting five members Nathaniel Potts and Jayden Bezzant, it was a remarkable first 20 minutes of the match.
Isaac Davidson stepped up across the first half, with the Bulls keeping the Sharks to just 30 points in the opening 20 minutes of the match. Then the Sharks offence started to click, as they piled on 33 points to 15 in the third and stunningly took the lead at the last break. The even spread of contributors from the Sharks was the most impressive aspect of the comeback, as Brayden Inger (12 points), Daishon Knight (nine) Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape (five) and Romaro Gill (four) all contributed multiple baskets on their way to building the five-point advantage with 10 minutes to play.
The teams traded blows early in the fourth, and the even stretched the lead out to 10 points with Jaylen Gerrand having a food first five minutes, while Davidson and Denhym Brooke refused to give in and cut the deficit to three points with four minutes remaining. A equalising triple from Davidson with 2:49 on the clock meant it was anyone’s game, and when Leon Henry drained a long-range attempt with 1:20 on the clock, the Bulls lead 77-74. Looking like the Bulls would critically hold on, the Sharks had other ideas as Alonzo Burton hit the three-pointer, Gill produced a huge dunk and then Knight finished off with back-to-back three throws to win with the last seven points of the match, 81-77.
Inger finished the match with an important double-double, collecting 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Knight (16 points, five rebounds and six assists) was busy across multiple facets. Gill (10 points, seven rebounds) and Leusogi-Ape (10 points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists) also contributed on the scoreboard. Coming off the bench, Mojave King chipped in with 10 points and six rebounds. For the Bulls it was largely let to Davidson (25 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, while Brooke (11 points, six rebounds, two assists and two locks) and Henry (eight points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two steals were also important.
Southland Sharks season has come to a close now, while Franklin Bulls finish off their year with another road trip tomorrow, this time against Otago Nuggets.