Otago Nuggets chalk up fifth win in a row

Otago Nuggets guard Tahjere McCall handles the ball during last night’s win over the Southland...
Otago Nuggets guard Tahjere McCall handles the ball during last night’s win over the Southland Sharks in Invercargill. PHOTO: MONICA TORETTO
There was a moment when it looked as though the Otago Nuggets were set to pull away.

A Sam Timmins post basket, a Keith Williams transition lay-up and a Tahjere McCall three-pointer sprinkled among three stops had forced the Southland Sharks into a timeout.

The scoreboard showed 52-40 to the Nuggets, the team having the opportunity to gain separation midway through the third quarter.

But it was unable to.

The Sharks, without arguably their best player Mojave King through illness, scrapped and fought their way back into the game.

They got back to within two points and it took a 15-4 run over the last five minutes for the Nuggets to finally open a gap that did not close.

It was a valiant effort from the hosts and, at times, a frustrating watch as the Nuggets kept letting them back in the game.

But an 89-72 win in Invercargill is nothing to complain about, particularly as it takes the Nuggets to five in a row.

It leaves the Nuggets clear at the top of the National Basketball League table — until tonight, at least — unbeaten since its imports arrived.

It also showed this team can win in a different way.

While the early wins in the streak have come easier, this one was tough.

Certainly it would be preferable to put away a team earlier.

But the Nuggets showed the ability to withstand several waves of pressure against a scrappy and awkward team, before eventually finding a way to come out on top.

That could be crucial later in the season.

Last night it was the Nuggets defence that lifted in the final five minutes, after falling away somewhat in the previous 10 minutes.

Timmins (14 points) and Williams (21 points) stepped up with key baskets down the stretch too, the former coming to life after a quiet first three quarters.

That showed the range of threats in this team — earlier it had been Todd Withers (23 points, 15 rebounds) and Nikau McCullough (19 points) that carried the Nuggets’ offence.

It was a scrappy start, the Nuggets looking to play through the post initially, sucking in the defence and opening up looks outside.

They struggled to hit, before McCullough and Withers got going.

However, a spread of scoring from the Sharks kept them in touch, before two free throws from McCullough gave the Nuggets a 22-15 first quarter lead.

That became double-digits as McCullough drove on Alonzo Burton, jump stopped, faked and finished to make it 30-19.

However, the Nuggets’ shooting fell away and two three-pointers from Burton closed the gap again.

The early third quarter run looked to be the Nuggets’ chance to pull clear.

But, with the score at 52-40, the team’s offence deteriorated.

It began taking poor shots, often settling for early three-pointers and the inability of the guards to penetrate the defence became clear.

At the other end the defence slipped too, the Sharks capitalising — notably through Dom Kelman-Poto (21 points) — to pull back to 63-61.

That stayed tight early in the fourth quarter, but Williams found his range and a late shot clock three-pointer from Timmins made it 79-68.

It was the moment the Nuggets finally broke the Sharks, locking in on defence and pulling away.

The Nuggets are back on the road tomorrow, travelling to New Plymouth to face the Taranaki Airs.

NBL

The scores

Otago Nuggets   89

Todd Withers 23, Keith Williams 21

Southland Sharks   72

Dom Kelman-Poto 21, Winston Shepard 14

Quarter scores: 22-15, 43-38, 63-61

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