Nuggets’ day goes awry

Nuggets No 4 Kimani Lawrence lines up a slam-dunk for his side against the Auckland Tuatara at...
Nuggets No 4 Kimani Lawrence lines up a slam-dunk for his side against the Auckland Tuatara at the Edgar Centre in Dunedin last night. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
A gut punch in the afternoon. A clip across the swede in the evening. It was not a great day for the Otago Nuggets.

Essentially they had two losses yesterday.

They were eclipsed 87-78 by the Auckland Tuatara at the Edgar Centre last night.

That was bad enough, but news Tai Webster is leaving the team was confirmed earlier in the day.

He will join his partner Sydney Taylor in the United States. She is expecting the couple’s first child in June.

Webster’s departure was negotiated in his contract, but whether he returns later in the season is still up for discussion.

Also still up for discussion is whether the Nuggets will look to sign a replacement.

Webster will leave a big hole and the Nuggets will need to lean more on Dontae Russo-Nance, who shone with 14 points.

A decent mid-week crowd of 1548 did not have to wait long for some class to shine through.

Rob Loe (19 points, 12 rebounds) scored about a second into the match from an alley-oop from Corey Webster (22 points). The two star players made an early statement with that.

Kimani Lawrence (16 points) rolled in a trademark hook shot and slammed down a dunk for the Nuggets.

And Russo-Nance subbed in early, hustled hard and made some nice touches. He threaded the ball through to Robbie Coman, who stuffed it in from under the rim.

The teams went into the break level on 21 points.

Tuatara forward Tom Vodanovich got three attempts under the hoop early in the second, which was two too many.

Corey Webster hit another cracking assist, this time a rocket one-armed pass to an unmarked Reuben Te Rangi.

The defence could have been better, but certainly not the vision.

The Tuatara opened up an eight-point lead, and a three from Loe contributed to the Nuggets’ defensive challenges.

Neither side was connecting with many threes, but the Nuggets struggled harder.

They posted just 10 points in the quarter and went into the long break trailing 41-31.

Ben Henshall made a sloppy pass early in the third to add to the growing list of turnovers.

But Zaccheus Darko-Kelly provided a spark with a three-pointer, and Lawrence got busy in the paint with a couple of buckets.

Henshall finally found his range and Russo-Nance drifted in a floater. Just like that the deficit was wiped out.

Corey Webster responded with a drive to the hoop and Vodanovich nailed a three from the corner.

The game can change so quickly.

Down 62-52, the Nuggets needed a lot to go right in the final quarter to emerge on top.

Loe hitting a three-pointer was not part of that plan.

Vodanovich grabbing more offensive boards was also not part of that plan.

Te Rangi muscling his way to the hoop was — you guessed it — not part of the plan.

And the loss was definitely not part of the plan either.

Darko-Kelly (18 points) padded his score with a run of baskets during garbage time, but he did not feature strongly otherwise.

In the Rapid League game, the Nuggets held the Tuatara to one point in the final quarter to win 27-25.

On Wednesday night, the Franklin Bulls cruised to a 101-79 win against the Hawke’s Bay Hawks in Napier.


The scores

Auckland Tuatara 87
(Corey Webster 22, Rob Loe 19)
Otago Nuggets 78 
(Zaccheus Darko-Kelly 18, Kimani Lawrence 16)
Quarter scores: 21-21, 41-31, 62-52.