The Mike Pero Nelson Giants ended a four-game losing streak with an 80-64 win against the Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams in the Sal’s NBL on Saturday.
The result consigns the injury-hit Rams to their ninth straight loss of the campaign and cuts them adrift at the foot of the NBL ladder.
Much interest centred around the performance and impact Mika Vukona would have. Vukona was still at Nelson College when he debuted for the Nelson Giants in 2000 when most of the Rams teams were still calves in kindergarten, in fact, six weren’t even born!
Twenty years later he demonstrates his value to the Giants with eight points (on a perfect four from four shooting night), three rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal – all achieved in just 12 minutes of action as he continues his recovery from an appendix operation.
Also key to the Giants win was Dane Brooks with a season-high 26 points, Mike Karena (11 points) and Nic Trathen (eight points and six rebounds).
Reuben Te Rangi led the Rams effort with 15 points but on a night when the Cantabrians shot just 33% (21/64) from the field, Toby Gillooly (10 points) was the only other double-figure contributor.
Te Rangi was the first player on the scoresheet and despite being without influential point guard Taylor Britt, nursing an elbow injury, the Rams opened up an 8-2 lead.
With 1:37 left in the opening quarter, Vukona, to the delight of the good-sized crowd, made his first appearance in the 2020 Sal’s NBL. It took the Tall Black precisely eight seconds to grab an offensive rebound, but his team trailed 22-13 at the first break.
He made his first basket after the restart and that wasn’t the Rams only issue, as Sam Smith hobbled out of the game with an injured ankle.
Zeb Lovell made a neat backdoor move for the Giants but a couple of Gillooly buckets gave the Rams a ten-point buffer.
That advantage soon diminished as Nic Trathen reeled off eight points. The Giants enjoyed a 22-5 run in the last five minutes of the half to lead 42-37 – Brooks throwing down a dunk to put an exclamation mark on the comeback effort.
Rams Coach Mick Downer copped a technical for his protestations after Jack Exeter was felled by a Josh Leger screen. The impact forced Jack Exeter from the court, thus diminishing the Rams' guard stocks still further.
Despite the setback, Ben Carlile-Smith, Mac Stodart and Gillooly kept the Rams in touch – down 64-57 at three-quarter time.
The Giants scored the first six points of the fourth period requiring Downer to gather his troops at a timeout.
Vukona and Alex McNaught added to the Rams woes, the Cantabrians 75-57 behind with 6:30 to play.
Giants captain Tom Ingham fouled out with just over five minutes to play but it was only a minor hindrance as Brooks moved his personal tally into the twenties and the Giants eased to a comfortable win.
The Giants are now 4-7, one spot above the bottom-placed Rams (3-9) on the NBL ladder.
Sky City MVP Votes:
Dane Brooks (Giants-10), Reuben Te Rangi (Rams-8), Mika Vukona (Giants-6), Alex McNaught (Giants-3), Mike Karena (Giants-2), Ben Carlile-Smith (Rams-1).