Fourth quarter the clincher for Nuggets

Otago Nuggets guard Ben Henshall eyes his options against Wellington Saints defender Hyrum Harris...
Otago Nuggets guard Ben Henshall eyes his options against Wellington Saints defender Hyrum Harris at the Edgar Centre on Saturday night. PHOTO: BLAKE ARMSTRONG
Ben Henshall stood his ground and went hard.

Wellington Saints forward Lat Mayen came charging towards him and only had eyes for the hoop.

But the referees only had eyes for Mayen, and when Nuggets guard Henshall hit the deck, out came the call against Mayen for an offensive foul.

It ignited a scream from animated Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere, and brought the Nuggets bench players to their feet, as Mayen was dealt his fourth personal for the night.

It was a turning point in the third quarter for the Nuggets, who were down by nine at halftime but stormed home to win 105-98 in front of a 1500-strong crowd at the Edgar Centre on Saturday.

"It’s a big call, it’s a turnover", Matehaere said.

"But bottom line is guys have got to have the courage to step in front of each other and take those charges.

"Stepping in front of that player, getting your feet set, getting knocked over — those are the major plays, those are championship-winning plays.

"We need to make sure we keep repeating that right through this season.

"We said before the game, this is how we find out who we are when you play the good teams.

"Saints are a really good team and we found out a little bit about ourselves . . . and it was good."

The Nuggets were brutal defensively in the second half — Jack Andrew came up with a big steal late — and Henshall finished with a massive three.

Henshall was outstanding. He finished with 29 points, six rebounds and three steals.

Zaccheus Darko-Kelly had his best outing for the Nuggets with 27 points, eight rebounds and three assists.

But it was the contributions across the court that pleased coach Matehaere the most.

The Nuggets were in blistering form early with an 8-0 run.

Then things started to heat up with a small scuffle between the teams.

It ended with a couple of technical fouls and both teams made them count, and the feeling remained among the two sides for the opening half.

Tohi Smith-Milner stood up for the Saints and banged down a three to give the visitors their first lead.

Izayah Leafa stole a cross-court ball from the Nuggets and attacked the hoop hard for the Saints.

That helped the visitors find their rhythm.

Lawrence added a nice tear drop, Tai Webster had a stepback three on the baseline and Darko-Kelly added a couple of late free throws as the Nuggets trailed 30-29 after the first quarter.

Lawrence had a nice fadeaway shot and Andrew came up with a big block on Smith-Milner.

The Saints started to pull away, but the Nuggets still strung together some nice passages.

Henshall popped the ball up to Lawrence in the paint and as he went for the jump shot, he dropped the ball down to Andrew to finish off a nice play.

But the Saints started to really ramp things up. Smith-Milner had a massive dunk, and when he went for a bucket that missed, Malik Benlevi picked up the crumbs to finish it off in the air.

They controlled the middle passage and pulled out to a 10-point lead and extended it to 65-56 at the break.

The Nuggets really clawed the game back through the start of the third quarter.

Darko-Kelly banged down a big three to bring the Nuggets within three and they kept rolling from there to tie the game 81-81 at the end of the third.

In New Plymouth, Australian big man Sam Froling had a nice double of 24 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Taranaki Airs to an 88-55 blowout over the Whai.


The scores

Otago Nuggets               105
Ben Henshall 29, Zaccheus Darko-Kelly 27

Wellington Saints             98
Tohi Smith-Milner 30, Hyrum Harris 16

Quarter scores: 29-30, 56-65, 81-81.