The SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks overcame a sluggish second quarter to defeat a gallant Otago side 92-76 at ILT Stadium Southland on Sunday afternoon.
The Sharks started strongly to jump out to an early 10-2 lead which they increased to 16 at quarter time, but Otago bounced back to close the deficit to only three points at the main break, ending the second quarter on an 11-0 run.
The Sharks then regrouped in the third, including their own 14-point run to take back control and ultimately go on to record a comfortable victory and retain the Invercargill Licensing Trust Challenge Shield.
Tom Vodanovich led all scorers with 21 points along with 4 rebounds, ably assisted by his fellow NZ Select team mates Dom Kelman-Poto (19 points/11 rebounds) and Hyrum Harris (16 points/5 rebounds/4 steals) with Tinashe Matambanadzo (13 points) also hitting double figures.
Otago were led by captain and former Shark Josh Aitcheson (20 points/4 rebounds/4 assists), Tai Porima Flavell (12 points) and Samason Aruwa (10 points/8 rebounds).
Sharks Head Coach Judd Flavell was pleased with the first effort from his newly assembled charges.
“It was just good to get the cob-webs out. Obviously, we got a great start, but I want to give Otago credit. They came right back and tied the ball-game up and that’s what we needed. They really pushed us today," said Flavell.
"For us, first and foremost, it was about getting five guys on the same page out there. Great to do it against an opponent that was really stingy and played us tough. It was exactly what we needed and is a great first step in laying the foundation.”
“I’m really excited with Dom and Hyrum. The longer the game went on, the more at home they felt. Dom had a ripper of a start and you could see the energy those guys bring and how infectious it is for the rest of the group.
"You add to that the enthusiasm that Wheels (Andrew Wheeler) and Tinashe and Tom Vodanovich all bring and I was really impressed with our young guys today. It’s been a while since we have seen Tom Cowie here and he handled himself really well today and it’s really got me looking forward to the next two weeks,” Flavell added.
The Sharks will add the experience of Alex Pledger along with the Australian trio of Jarrad Weeks, Todd Blanchfield and Mitch McCarron over the next seven days.
“After today, these boys will be a step ahead, but even though the other guys are new they won’t take long to pick things up. Chief (Pledger) and Weeksy were here last year, Todd’s been here (in 2015) and knows what it’s all about and Mitch has played in this league before (Rangers in 2017). Those guys will kick us up into the next level and we’re all very excited about that,” Flavell said.
The Sharks open their 2019 Sal’s NBL campaign in ILT Stadium Southland against the Canterbury Rams on Sunday 14 April at 2pm. Tickets are available at the Stadium with more information at www.sharksbasketball.co.nz/tickets.