The EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls recorded their first-ever franchise win in the Battle of the North at The Trusts Arena this evening, narrowly beating rivals the Auckland Huskies 63-59 in a back and forth slugfest.
Week one's marquee fixture may not have drawn as many swishes as fans would have hoped to see but lived up to its billing in tenacity and finished with onlookers on the edge of their seats.
The Huskies were trailing by four going into the last quarter, but a pair of scores from Taine Murray kept the League's newest franchise within striking distance as the Bulls looked to pull away.
Isaac Davidson played the leading role in keeping Franklin ahead with his game-high 19 points, only Tohi Smith-Milner wasn't going to let this one go without a fight. The forward tied it up at 59 apiece with just over two minutes to go before the final horn, putting the game in the balance and giving his team the chance to claim temporary bragging rights.
Tall Blacks Izayah Mauriohoohoo-Le'afa and Leon Henry both had good looks to flip the scoreboard in their favour, but in the end, it was Davidson who made it count when it mattered most. The Bulls guard knocked down a step-back to take the lead and iced the game with a pair of free throws.
Davidson's heroics with the jumper and from the line was rather ironic considering the rate at which both shots fell for both teams across the 40 minutes of play. Franklin finished the outing having only converted 39% of their looks from the field and 63% from the charity stripe, while the Huskies were a woeful 29% and 33%.
The scarcity at which goals were made was partly on the players not finding their stroke, but also a result of both clubs hustling for every inch when defending their basket. Only twenty-nine points were scored in the first period, the Bulls up 16-13, and buckets were even tougher to come by in the second as the half closed with the eventual winners ahead 26-23.
Ultimately, the slight difference in efficiency is what saw the Bulls leave the battle with a victor's grin. Mauriohoohoo-Le'afa can be forgiven for going 1/15 having just left quarantine, but the same can't be said for his teammates who combined to go 23/67. Henry finished with a commendable 16 points and 15 boards.
As for Franklin, they too won't be happy with the boxscore but will take some confidence out of their improved showing on the defensive end. A standout whilst under his own goal was Sam Timmins, who blocked six shots to go along with five points and seven rebounds.
Final Score: Franklin Bulls 63 Auckland Huskies 59
SKYCITY MVP Votes:
Isaac Davidson (Bulls-10), Everard Bartlett (Bulls-8), Leon Henry (Huskies-4), Sam Timmins (Bulls-3), Izayah Le'afa (Huskies-3), Tohi Smith-Milner (Huskies-2).