Basketball: Otago bully Hawks

By Anendra Singh

No doubt, a bullish BJ Anthony has a logical explanation for why he kept changing his oversized shorts a dozen times during the game.

While amused HBS Bank Hawks fans weren't laughing when the final buzzer went, Anthony might as well have stolen Bart Simpson's famous line of: "Eat my shorts".

"BJ's a beast, isn't he?" said a grinning Oceana Otago Nuggets coach, Anthony "Alf" Arlidge, as the undefeated Southerners beat the Hawks 81-74 at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Napier, on Saturday night.

For the visitors, it was their first victory in a decade of trying here and they also beat Waitakere Rangers 96-81, again, on the way back home yesterday for a perfect start to their Bartercard National Basketball League campaign in trying to make the playoffs since 1997.

In defeat, the Hawks broke from tradition, leaving some bewildered fans waiting for autographs while they held court with coach Tab Baldwin in the exclusivity of the changing rooms following their second defeat in three games.

Not only did Otago look good on paper but they brought a healthy dose of rock-and-scissors mentality, too.

The Nuggets eclipsed a halftime 45-34 deficit with a 27-10 third quarter and never relinquished the lead even though the Paora Winitana-captained Hawks levelled 74-74 with 1min 29sec of the game left on the clock.

If the Hawks' two imports, Brian Greene and Darko Cohadarevic, had any preconceived notions of the importance of physicality in the NBL then they would have taken stock after the game. In fact, Cohadarevic had a night to forget, begging the question if he deserved 28:13 of court time.

The Serb became bricklayer, finding little love from the rims on his way to picking up four fouls and having three of his shots swatted off the back board.

Consequently, the frustrated centre was reduced to remonstrating with the referees.

Hawks comeback kid Sam Walker came on effectively in the third quarter, scoring five points and as many rebounds in a shade below 10 minutes as the third big man but was somewhat under-utilised.

Within two minutes of the start, BJ Anthony questioned a sprawling Greene's pedigree, but the swingman picked himself up and answered in chest-on-chest fashion although that verbal stoush continued in the shooting lanes.

Without doubt Anthony, who scored 18 points in 22:54 minutes, had got under Greene's skin, as others had with Cohadarevic.

If anything, it was a good reminder of how the Hawks exited prematurely to Wellington in the NBL semifinals last year and anything short of a pack mentality in a dark alleyway will equate to more tears and gnashing of teeth.

"They [Otago] did that well because this is a physical league but, in having said that, it was about us," Winitana lamented, adding his troops failed to execute Baldwin's systems as Greene was fouled out with only 23:50 of court time but also drawing six fouls in scoring 14 points and collecting eight rebounds.

"You might be able to get by regular teams but you're never going to be a playoff championship team if you can't execute under pressure," said the former Tall Black whose late flurry got the Hawks a handy lead at the break although he had a cold start before finishing with 19 points.

It hurt him to admit it, but Winitana confessed the Nuggets had bullied the Hawks in their own house.

Not only did the Hawks not turn up physically in the second half but they were also exposed mentally.

In the first half, a two-man ambush from Alonzo Burton and Dion Prewster on Akeem Wright and a morale-deflating block on fellow Otago import, Antoine Tisby, set the tone but it was shortlived.

Point guard Jarrod Kenny, scoring 16 points, had the best percentage shooting for the Hawks.

However, the Hawks were guilty of having too many chuckers at times from outside the paint, rather than working the ball into the key as Otago did.

The turning point of the game came midway through the third quarter to the tune of a war cry from a wily old campaigner, captain/point guard Mark Dickel.

Winitana felt Otago had a fine starting five although their depth on the bench was probably lacking.

Ironically the Nuggets' bench outscored the Hawks 18-12 as they recorded the biggest scoring run of 17 points.

Throw in Hayden Allen, unavailable on Saturday because of New Zealand Breakers commitments as franchise development officer, and Otago look like giant killers.

The Hawks are waiting for Perth Wildcat Everard Bartlett to arrive while centre Kareem Johnson, waiting for immigration papers, was again reduced to a spectator.

Last season's All Star Five Tisby had a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds for his double-double.

Anthony said he had taken nothing to heart, leaving everything behind on the court.

"In the league I have a lot of friends so there's always a bit of trash talking going on so it's good fun every week."

Anthony said he had to change his shorts eight times after blood from a cut on his leg kept staining them.

Dickel said once Otago switched the "ball screens, everything changed".

"We can still play much better but we got the win," said the former Tall Black.

Despite some frustrations the referees had given them "a fair whistle", he said.

"If we leave them [refs] alone they'll give us a better game," said Dickel, who had individually exchanged pleasantries with all three officials at the start of the game before a rather subdued celebrations.

"To win in Hawke's Bay is not like beating Serbia in Montenegro," he said with a grin, even if it was after a 10-year drought.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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