The Final 6 aspirations of the Franklin Bulls have come to a screaming halt in the deep south following a third-quarter blitz by the Southland Sharks to reverse a 13-point half-time deficit and turn it into a thrilling 81-77 victory.
Needing to win to remain in the playoff picture, the Bulls went in with a decimated line-up that was minus Corey Webster (injured), Giddy Potts (injured) and Jayden Bezzant (Commonwealth Games), leaving them drastically short-handed in the guard department.
Despite missing the star trio, the Bulls looked sharp early and left the Sharks searching for answers with a scorching 43-30 opening half spearheaded by Tall Black Isaac Davidson. On the flipside, the Sharks struggled to find a flow or confidence in attack, but all that would soon change.
Played in front of another big crowd, which is great credit to the Sharks organisation given the lowly season they have produced on the court, the men in orange visibly came out after the half-time break with a point to prove, no doubt fresh from a rev-up by coach Rob Beveridge.
And prove a point they did as a brilliant 15-0 run not only edged them back in front, it was a scoring blitz that gave them renewed confidence and lifted the crowd into a frenzy.
With Brayden Inger and Daishon Knight finding their range, coupled with Romaro Gill standing tall defensively, the Sharks stared down the Bulls with a scintillating 33-15 period to not only get back into the contest, but take a 5-point lead into the last quarter.
Timely back-to-back triples from the hand of Jaylen Gerrand pushed the home team out to a 74-64 lead midway through the last before one last push by the Bulls, and seven straight points from Davidson tied the contest back up with a little over two minutes to play.
Soon after, Leon Henry dropped a three-ball to give the Bulls the lead with 80 seconds to play and with that it again looked like the team from Franklin was going to remain in contention for the playoffs.
Not to be outdone on their home floor for the final time in 2022, the Sharks answered almost immediately with a triple from Alonzo Burton, before big Gill broke the hearts of all Bulls fans with a dunk. It proved to be a telling blow.
Late foul shots from Knight sealed the win, the Sharks home in a thriller and both teams now looking ahead to season 2023.
With the loss the Bulls cannot make the Final 6, but they may be able to help shape the final positions with a game against the Otago Nuggets on Sunday.
All attention now turns to Saturday's big clash between the Hawks and Rams, where it almost seems certain the lower will also miss out on next week's playoffs action.
SCORE: Sharks 81, Bulls 77
Sharks: Brayden Inger 18 PTS, 12 REB | Daishon Knight 16 PTS | Romaro Gill 10 PTS, 8 REB, 4 BLK
Bulls: Isaac Davidson 25 PTS | Denhym Brooke 11 PTS | Leon Henry 8 PTS, 12 REB
Full box score HERE.
Stuff MVP Votes
Brayden Inger (Sharks) - 10 votes
Isaac Davidson (Bulls) - 8 votes
Daishon Knight (Sharks) - 6 votes
Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape - 2 votes
Denhym Brooke (Bulls) - 2 votes
Leon Henry (Bulls) - 1 vote
Romaro Gill (Sharks) - 1 vote
Round 15 Sal's NBL Schedule