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Jordan Ngatai’s layup just rimmed out in the final seconds to deny the Otago Nuggets a comeback win in Auckland last night.
The side was edged 106-105 by the table-topping Taranaki Mountainairs.
Otago started slowly and trailed by 14 in the second quarter. It conceded 32 points in the first quarter, followed by 29 more in the second.
But from there it lifted. Matt Bardsley (18 points) brought energy at both ends, while Jarrod Kenny (20 points) provided spark to ignite the Nuggets.
The team chipped away and finally claimed the lead in the last two minutes.
But Taranaki’s outstanding player from the first half, Denhym Brooke, had the final say. He made the layup to give the Mountainairs the last lead, before Ngatai’s rimmed out in the dying seconds.
Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere said the side’s slow start was costly.
"We gave up 32 points and 30 in the second quarter; that’s just bad defence," he said.
"It’s not standing up and basically manning up and making sure we’re playing man on man and playing it tough. We had to look at ourselves at halftime.
"But I’m proud of the way the guys came out in that third quarter and fronted up to a physical Taranaki Mountainairs team."
The Nuggets faced a 12-3 deficit early as the Taranaki offence clicked early and the Nuggets struggled to score. They kept key man Derone Raukawa quiet, but Denhym Brooke contributed 12 first-quarter points.
Bardsley began to spark the Nuggets offence and provided eight early points of his own. But the lack of defence became apparent and the Nuggets trailed 32-21 at the first break
and 61-49 at halftime.
At that point, Otago’s defence locked in. The Mountainairs took five minutes to get their first field goal.
But they were able to hold the lead as Raukawa began showing his all-round threat, getting to the hoop and the line, as well shooting from deep.
But the Nuggets continued to find their own production. Jordan Hunt (24 points) continued to chip in with points, while Jordan Ngatai found his way to the hoop and then the line after struggling early.
Taranaki took a seven-point lead to the final break.
Again the Nuggets hit big shots via Kane Keil and Josh Aitcheson.
But Taranaki answered every time, not letting the Nuggets closer than four. They finally got within three on a Kenny three-point play with four minutes to go. Kenny then pulled it back to one at 96-95 after hitting two more free throws.
A minute later, Hunt hit a free throw to tie the scores, before a Kenny transition lay-up gave the Nuggets the lead with under two minutes left.
Taranaki pulled back ahead, before Ngatai drew the defence and found Keil, who hit an open three in the corner.
Two free throws to Kenneth Tuffin were answered with a Bardsley lay-up.
But Brooke scored the final layup, before Ngatai was denied by the rim on the buzzer.
In the other game the Auckland Huskies beat the Franklin Bulls 86-82.