Southland Sharks clinch NBL top-four berth

Last updated 05:00 29/06/2013
Leon Henry
TOP-FOUR: Sharks forward Leon Henry drives on Jeremiah Trueman during their 94-89 win over the Manawatu Jets, which booked a place in the NBL Final Four.

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The 2013 Southland Sharks team is a playoff team.

The Sharks clinched a top-four National Basketball League spot in dramatic fashion in Palmerston North last night when they produced a remarkable 21-point turnaround in the final five minutes of play.

Midway through the final quarter, the Zero Fees-sponsored Sharks looked to have a missed a golden opportunity to seal a top-four berth when they trailed by 16 points.

However, the Paul Henare-coach Southland team produced one of the most startling comebacks in the Sharks' four-season history to win 94-89.

Trailing by 16, it all started with a three-point shot by Luke Martin and was followed by some impressive late-game deeds from several key players to lock the scores up with 1min 16sec to play.

Then it was Leon Henry who stepped up for a couple of huge plays.

At 89-89, with only 39 seconds on the clock, he grabbed an all-important defensive rebound and then, with 28 seconds remaining, he banked a three-pointer to give his team the lead for the first time since about a minute into the first quarter.

Early in the game, Southland struggled to get the ball to drop, shooting at only 29 per cent from the field and zero from five from three-point land.

Their usual shooting machine, Kevin Braswell, was battling to find his rhythm and hit just one from seven from the field and zero from three from the three-point line in the first quarter as the Sharks trailed 20-12.

The Sharks brought it back to 39-36 down at halftime but were still struggling to make the ball drop. The Sharks got back to within two early in the final quarter but when the Jets went on a 17 and three run, Southland looked well and truly beaten.

They looked to be heading into a must-win game tomorrow against the Waikato Pistons to lock in a playoffs berth. Instead, though, they went on their own impressive run in the final quarter, racking up 26 points to Manawatu's five in the last five minutes of play to snatch the win from nowhere.

Henare said soon after the win that he had told his players, when he called a time out when down by 16 and with 4min 56sec to play, it was a game that was there to win - and they did just that.

"To be able to win is huge in a couple of ways. It firstly locks in our playoff spot but it also gives us confidence we can come from behind," he said.

"I think we've really matured as a basketball team and it was good to get a result like that."

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Southland Sharks 94 (Kevin Braswell 20, Leon Henry 19, Brian Conklin 19) Manawatu Jets 89 (Chris Hagen 27, Marcel Jones 20, Troy McLean 14) Q1: 12-20, HT: 36-39, Q3: 55-61

- The Southland Times

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