The Southland Sharks have endured a tough 105-82 must-win Thursday Night Lights victory over the plucky Supercity Rangers in an entertaining, yet at times loose game as both teams tried to find ascendancy in a see-sawing arm-wrestle.
With plenty of talk during the week centred on Southland's leaky defence and Tim Quarterman's hot shooting, expectations of a good battle were high. Pleasingly for the Sharks, by game's end they had held the Rangers to 82pts, the lowest score an opponent has scored this season.
The Rangers started strongly behind some aggressive offence from Venky Jois and Tim Quarterman, the import duo combining to score 30 of their team's first 36 points. At one stage during the first quarter the home team led by as much as 13pts, but with some defensive changes the Sharks slowly started to find their feet.
Roberto Nelson displayed some of his best basketball since arriving a few weeks ago in Invercargill, his dash and creativity leading to 13 first-half points and helping the Sharks put the foot down with a 28-17 second period.
With Alex Pledger dropping shots the visitors pushed to a 50-45 lead at the midway point.
It didn't take long for the contest to tighten up early in the third period, the Rangers helped largely by some Daniel Green triples and more Quarterman magic. At the other end Todd Blanchfield started to get going and scored some important points despite coming down hard and twisting an ankle at one stage.
With Pledger and Nelson working hard early in the final term the Sharks extended to a 78-70 lead over the first two minutes of the quarter, before Nnanna Egwu used his immense size and Jois his flashy footwork inside to steady the ship for the home team.
As the last quarter progressed the visitors got on top, looking to be a little fresher courtesy of a greater spread of minutes amongst their roster. In particular Pledger showed that big men don't get any smaller the longer the game goes on. His presence inside was undeniable as the Rangers battled to get important stops.
A Jarrad Weeks long bomb with two-minutes to go spelt the end for the Rangers as the Sharks pushed clear to a 97-80 lead, a margin that proved too much for the home team to reel in. The final margin was 23pts (105-82) with the Sharks piling on a 31-13 final quarter.
In a pleasing sign for the Sharks, Roberto Nelson (23pts & 9ast) delivered his best performance and with that will come the hope the reigning champs will now start to get on a run over the second half of the season towards the Final 4.
The final win was exactly what the Sharks needed after a run of outs, while for the Rangers it was another missed opportunity. Deservedly, Alex Pledger (22pts, 11rbs) was named the Sal's Pizza MVP of the game.
Supercity Rangers 82 lost to Southland Sharks 105
Rangers - Quaterman 32pts, Jois 22pts & 14rbs, Green 11pts.
Sharks - Pledger 22pts & 11rbs, Nelson 23pts, 7rbs & 9ast, Blanchfield 14pts & 7ast, Kelman-Poto 14pts & 11rbs.
Stats That Matter - better shooting (58% to 35%) was a big advantage for the Sharks, as was a 58-33 rebounding advantage.
There was some pressure on import Roberto Nelson coming into the game following some performances, but the American was thrust into the starting line-up for the Sharks and delivered a quality game. While his 23pts were great to see, his slick passing and 9 dimes were just as good.
When it came time for someone to step up and kill the game off it was none other than The Chief - Alex Pledger. The Sharks dominated the boards and when it most matter Pledger literally said "give me the ball and get out of my way!"
The Rangers just don't have enough depth, simple as that. Quarterman and Jois continue to do all they can every time they step out to play, but they need a few more helpers.