Waikato Pistons keeping NBL playoff hopes alive
The Waikato Pistons emerged from a nerve-jangling final quarter victorious today to remain in the hunt for an NBL playoff berth.
An 83-78 win over the Otago Nuggets in Hamilton kept the meagre crowd on the edge of their collective seats until the final second, as play swung crazily throughout the final 10 minutes of a match the Advice First Pistons appeared to have control of.
The hosts at Hamilton Boys' High School had recovered from their usual slow start - they trailed 25-20 at the end of the first quarter - to lead 53-42 at halftime and were still up by seven entering the final stanza.
They stayed in front for the remainder of the match, but for the majority of the last quarter it was nail-biting stuff after Nuggets import Brandon Bowdry knocked down a rare three with eight minutes to play to reduce the gap to three points.
Classy point guard Corin Henry tried to help the hosts draw away with a three-pointer from the corner, but Otago's imported centre Warren Carter replied with a trey of his own from the top of the key to make it 74-72 Pistons with just under five minutes to play.
An explosive drive and dunk from Akeem Wright might have given the Pistons some breathing room, had Carter not escaped from an in-bounds pass at the other end soon after to make it a one-point ball-game.
Twice Henry found Zac Carter open in the corner, but Carter's long-range stroke has been faltering and he missed both, before making the third attempt the charm to put the Pistons up 79-75 with 93 seconds to play.
Yet Carter repeated his effort from beyond the arc to drag the deficit back to one, before Dyson King-Hawea's lay-up didn't drop.
The Nuggets had a gilt-edged chance to go ahead in the last minute but Carter couldn't find a streaking Mark Dickel with a pass when he had the court open ahead of him and after Henry was fouled, he sank both free-throws to put the Pistons up 81-78 with 14 seconds left.
Swarming defence ensured the Nuggets couldn't find the shot they needed to force overtime, and from the resulting turnover Casey Frank slammed in a dunk on the buzzer to seal his side's seventh win in 12 matches and push them - at least temporarily - level on points in fourth spot with the beleaguered Southland Sharks.
Earlier, the Nuggets looked the more assured side as veteran forward Brendon Polyblank sparked a smooth-running Otago offence. The former Tall Black, who must again be in consideration for the national side for this year's world championships in Spain, produced 12 points on 5/7 shooting in the opening 10 minutes.
The second stanza saw the Pistons produce their best offensive spell for some time, with King-Hawea again highly efficient off the bench, while technical fouls proved costly for the visitors.
Henry was at his dynamic best offensively during the third quarter, while Carter emerged as Otago's chief threat. He finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds, Polyblank had 19 points and six assists while player-coach Dickel had 13 points and seven assists.
Henry tallied 20 points, six assists and five boards for the victors, Wright had 19 and eight ballboards, King-Hawea 14. Carter kept battling away despite his woes from the outside to add 13 points and five boards while Frank had eight points and seven assists.
The visitors were troubled by their lack of depth - all their points were scored by their five starters - while King-Hawea produced all but two point of the Pistons' bench scoring.