Southland experiment at own peril in Nelson

BIG MAN: Giants player Sam Dempster takes on Paul Henare.
BIG MAN: Giants player Sam Dempster takes on Paul Henare.

The Southland Sharks dropped their National League Basketball road game 101-89 to Nelson tonight but there was a touch of keeping the cards close to the chest about it.

The Sharks travelled to Nelson their National Basketball League showdown a semifinals berth already sorted.

Coach Paul Henare had indicated he wanted his team to go in to this weekend's final round looking for wins but he also suggested the most important focus was the Final Four in Wellington next weekend.

Southland were in the same position last season where they already had their play-off spot sorted heading into the final two regular season fixtures.

They dropped both those games but still went on to win the title. While they won't be happy with tonight's result there probably isn't any need to panic.

In fact all nine of the 10 players on the Sharks team sheet played 10 minutes or more probably gave away what Henare was trying to get out of the game.

The likes of Sam Everitt and Mitchell Newton, who have spent most of the season as training opposition, spent some quality time on the court, as did Dan Peck who rejoined the Sharks midway through the season.

It meant key players Brian Conklin, Kevin Braswell and Luke Martin were able to have reduced minutes.

All that aside, it was a big night for Nelson and they did deliver.

It was the final home game for Nelson Giants legend Phill Jones before he hangs up his playing shoes at the end of the season.

The 40-year-old has played more than 350 NBL games for the Giants since he made his debut in 1993 and turned in a 21-point haul tonight to help his team to victory in the special occasion.

Nelson got out to a 28-20 lead in the first quarter and held a 49-42 lead at halftime before eventually taking the 101-89 win.

Southland will have little time to reflect on the Nelson loss as they turn their focus to their game against the Canterbury Rams in Christchurch, starting at 7pm tomorrow.

The game will also have a special touch to it with Paul Henare set to play his 250th National Basketball League game.

Again it is probably not all that important in regard to the Sharks' push for a title but it would be surprise if they did not try to put the foot down against the Rams and have a touch of spark going into the semifinals.

Nelson Giants 101 (Jamal Boykin 29, Josh Pace 23, Phill Jones 21), Southland Sharks 89 (Brian Conklin 23, Tai Wesley 16, Kevin Braswell 15).

The Southland Times