The Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks have survived a late comeback by the Sky Tower Auckland Huskies to record a tough 80-75 win with Devondrick Walker stuffing the stat sheet in a Player of the Game performance.
Up by as much as 20 points at one stage, the Hawks struggled to contain former NBA star Chris Johnson, along with teenage sensations Dontae Russo-Nance and Zach Riley at times, but in the end had too much class and depth against the short-handed visitors.
The clash was headlined as a revenge game for the Hawks after succumbing to the Huskies earlier in the season, this time though it was a far stronger Hawks outfit in action.
In a tight 18-15 start Hawks swingman Walker (10 first quarter points) proved to be the difference as both teams struggled to score, the Hawks scoring at 36 per cent, the Huskies marginally better at 37 per cent.
The arm-wrestle continued early in the second period as shots failed to drop, before a Walker triple, his third of the game, opened things up and gave the home team a slight advantage.
As the clock ticked down to the half-time break the biggest talking point was missed shots. The low-scoring affair (32-27 at the half) was more about poor shooting than anything else.
With the game up for grabs the Hawks re-entered the court after the break and went on an 21-6 run, punishing the Huskies on mistakes with Walker continuing to land blows.
A big concern for the Huskies was the absence of captain Brook Ruscoe after the talented scoring guard exited the contest with what looked to be a leg injury. A high run of turnovers didn't help either as the visitors struggled to look after possession.
Despite their problems the Huskies dug deep late in the third period and mustered their own 13-4 run to bring the margin back to 11-points with a quarter to play.
The start of the last quarter sent more shockwaves through the Hawks camp as Johnson, Russo-Nance and Riley all landed quick points for the Huskies in a 6-0 blitz that further reduced the gap to just 5-points.
The home team quickly got their starters back out on court and it had the desired effect as Ethan Rusbatch, Derone Raukawa and Jordan Hunt steadied the ship, but the advantage was tested by Johnson and his ability to knock down a big triple in reply to bring the Hukies back to withing two baskets.
With the win up for grabs the Hawks found a way to get the job done through experience, surviving a a couple of scares from the Huskies. Walker was the star with 25 points, while Johnson did what he could with 20 points for the visitors.
Hawke's Bay Hawks (80) defeated Auckland Huskies (75) - BOXSCORE
Hawks: Devondrick Walker (25pts, 8rbs, 4ast, 3st, 5 treys), Ethan Rusbatch (14pts),
Huskies: Chris Johnson (20pts, 9rbs, 3blks), Dontae Russo-Nance (20pts), Zach Riley (15pts).
Stuff MVP Votes
Devondrick Walker (Hawks) 10
Dontae Russo-Nance (Huskies) 7
Chris Johnson (Huskies) 7
Hyrum Harris (Hawks) 2
Derone Raukawa (Hawks) 2
Ethan Rusbatch (Hawks) 2
(Photo Credit: PhotosportNZ)