Otago Nuggets dig in to curb Southland streak
The Southland Sharks fell agonisingly short of creating history when they were toppled by the Otago Nuggets in a dramatic finish in Dunedin.
The Sharks made it a remarkable seven wins in a row when the beat Manawatu 91-83 at home in Invercargill on Saturday night.
A tired and battered Southland team then made the trip to Dunedin yesterday morning and just 24 hours later took on Otago with the hope of extending the winning run even further.
They were attempting to take it to an eight-game winning streak for the first time in the Southland Sharks' five seasons in the National Basketball League.
A big couple of big weeks looked to have caught up on the defending champions with the writing on the wall when they went into the final quarter trailing 80-60.
But, in the theme of 2014, whenever people start writing off the Sharks, that is when they seem to go to work.
Despite having little energy left in the tank, they won the fourth quarter 26-9 and went within three points of grabbing what would have been an outstanding victory.
The reality is that Southland struggled to find their shooting radar last night.
That included making just three from 25 from three-point land and scoring just 36 per cent from the field.
With those sort of numbers the job was always going to be tough no matter how determined the Paul Henare-coached team were to make it eight in a row.
Despite last night's loss the win over Manawatu the night before has edged Southland closer to a playoffs berth with five round-robin fixtures to play.
The Sharks sit in outright second on the points table, with a game in hand, thanks to the Canterbury Rams' upset win over the Waikato Pistons in Christchurch yesterday.
The step towards the playoffs is an impressive effort considering the challenges coach Paul Henare and his squad have had thrown at them in the past couple of weeks.
To put it all into perspective, just two of the seven players who took the court in game one of the seven-game winning streak against Wellington on May 3, were there to notch up win No 7 in Invercargill on Saturday night.
Gareth Dawson has been stood down for the season, Reuben Te Rangi, Leon Henry and Shea Ili have all been sidelined, and Dave Gruber is back in Australia after filling in for American Brian Conklin as an injury replacement.
A couple of new players were welcomed to the Sharks family at the weekend, with Puke Lenden stepping out of retirement to help his mate Henare in a time of need.
The second new player was Tai Wesley, a direct replacement for Dawson for the remainder of the season.
Wesley has provided the Sharks with a big man under the basket, although he seems to be a bigger scoring option than Dawson was in the setup.
He grabbed seven rebounds and scored 15 points in the win over Manawatu on Saturday, and last night contributed 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Conklin looked to be playing through the pain of an ankle injury he picked up the week before and, to his credit, showed some courage through the two games at the weekend.
He was important in the win over Manawatu and was one of the Sharks' best in the loss to Otago.