The SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks have delivered a hard-fought 84-65 win against the Nelson Giants to start their 2021 Sal's NBL campaign.
In a physical encounter, the travelling Sharks used a 43-28 second half to take a season-opening victory, helped largely by a 47 per cent shooting clip compared with the Giants' frustrating 31 per cent effort.
Played in front of a packed crowd at the Trafalgar Centre, the going was tough early as both teams tried to find their feet, leading to lots of opportunities and highlights and very little separating the pair.
Though scrappy at times, the defensive pressure was enormous, which will please both coaches, leading to a collective 29 turnovers for the game and a number of shot-clock violations.
Separated by just 4-points at the half, Sharks coach Rob Beveridge asked his team to lift its work-rate in the second half, especially off the offensive boards where the Giants had the upper-hand.
An arm-wrestle during the third period (13-9) was broken when the Sharks landed two late baskets, opening an 8-point margin ahead of the final period.
From there the Sharks found their stroke and created some extra space, helped largely by Courtney Belger's ability to bring his teammates into the game. A 30-19 final quarter ensued with six Sharks ending with double-digit scoring.
In contrast, only Donte Ingram (20pts) reached double figures with the next best Giant being Tom Ingham with 9pts.
Next up for the Sharks is a date with the Steelformers Taranaki Mountainairs at ILT Stadium Southland live on Sky Sport this Thursday night, while the Giants will take a small break before heading north to take on EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls (May 8) and Sky Tower Auckland Huskies (May 9).
Southland Sharks (Brayden Inger 15pts, Courtney Belger 14pts, Toby Gillooly 12pts, Dom Kelman-Poto 11pts & 7rbs) defeated Nelson Giants (Donte Ingram 20pts)
1. This was an arm-wrestle, a tough first up encounter between two teams trying to find their feet early. Both teams will take plenty away from this one - the good and the bad - and no doubt we will see some rapid progress in the weeks ahead.
2. Sharks fans should be super excited about young guns Brayden Inger (15pts) and Johnny Helu (10pts), both players fitted in seamlessly and look set for big seasons.
3. Both teams rolled out their imports and while there was plenty to like, the run will serve them all well. Josh Cunningham finished with 10pts and 11rbs for the Sharks, while Donte Ingram entertained the Giants fans with 20pts.
Stuff MVP Votes
Josh Cunningham (Sharks-9)
Brayden Inger (Sharks-8)
Donte Ingram (Giants-5)
Courtney Belger (Sharks-4)
Johnny Helu (Sharks-2)
Sam Dempster (Giants-1)
Hunter Hale (Giants-1)
(Photo Credit: PhotosportNZ)