AMERICAN import Austin Thornton made an immediate impact to spark Newcastle Hunters to an 82-65 Waratah Basketball League victory over Sutherland Sharks at Sutherland on Saturday.
The 29-year-old Michigan State swingman poured in 38 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and added three assists and three steals in an authoritative debut.
Returning veterans Josh Morgan and Steve Davis chipped in with nine points each, and young gun Jakob Dorricott’s eight points included two late three-pointers which helped the Hunters maintain their double-digit lead in the closing stages.
Newcastle led 38-31 at half-time and were always in control during the second half.
“Austin was outstanding, with 38 and 15, but there were great team contributions across the board,” Hunters coach Darren Nichols said.
“We were very patchy with our offence but our team defence was sound as we kept Sutherland under our defensive target of 17 points a quarter.
“Steve Davis was strong and Josh Morgan led from the front, so it was a solid hit-out for our first game together, and we still have Sharif Watson to add to our line-up.”
Watson is expected to make his first appearance for Newcastle against arch rivals Maitland Mustangs in the first leg of the Kibble Mallon Cup at Maitland next Saturday. The Mustangs opened their account with a 71-68 victory over Hornsby Spiders at Hornsby on Saturday.
Newcastle went down 58-56 to Sutherland in a nail-biting women’s game on Saturday. The Hunters led 23-15 at half-time but conceded 30 points in the third quarter, giving the Sharks the momentum heading into the final term.
South Australian guard Jasmin Howe led the Hunters with 24 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals on debut, and guards Lauren Faulkner (eight points, nine rebounds) and Cassidy McLean (seven points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals) also made valuable contributions. The Hunters women have a bye next weekend.
Meanwhile, the Maitland Mustangs men's side defeated Hornsby Spiders away on Saturday night 71-68 thanks to a dominant performance from Karl Moore, who had 36 points and 23 rebounds.
* AAP REPORTS: Adelaide 36ers coach Joey Wright admits he'll go into the NBL grand final series against Melbourne United cautiously optimistic about his team's chances.
Their best-of-five-game series to decide the champions will start on Friday night at Hisense Stadium in Melbourne. The 36ers have not beaten Melbourne in four attempts this season.
But before Friday night, they had not beaten the Perth Wildcats at the Perth Arena this season either.
And they hadn't won a final on the road since 2002.
Wright said that they would also take some confidence from beating Perth by one point on Friday night, having been 18 down earlier in the clash.
"We have a lot of confidence in what we do and how we play," he said.
"It should bring a lot of confidence for the boys to show poise in front of 15,000 fans being down 18 points - to show poise and knowledge that you can come back and fight
"But all of that is out of the window for the next series. They are a totally different ball club. They play a totally different style of play.
"We have to adjust to that."
Melbourne won those four games against Adelaide by an average of 12 points and with three scores of 99 and one of 101.
This will be the first grand final series since 2008-09 that either Perth or the New Zealand Breakers - the two teams just beaten in the semi-final - have not won, claiming four titles apiece in that time.
Melbourne last won the title as the Tigers in 2007-08, while Adelaide's last championship was earned in 2001-02.
Both clubs are chasing their fifth championship.