NEWCASTLE Hunters took another step towards the Waratah Basketball League men’s minor premiership with a comfortable 94-60 victory over Sutherland Sharks at Newcastle Basketball Stadium on Saturday night.
The league-leading Hunters never trailed on their way to a ninth straight victory, improving to a 14-2 record and setting up a top-of-the-table tussle with second-placed Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (12-4) at Broadmeadow next Saturday.
Newcastle dominated at both ends of the floor and were always in control, leading 28-12 at quarter-time and 50-27 at the half, allowing coach Darren Nichols a stress-free second half.
“While we always respect all our opponents, there are times when we need to show a little bit of arrogance to reflect where we are on the ladder,” Nichols said. “Too often we can get out to a 20-point lead and don’t go on with the job, but tonight we went on with the job. We played like a team on top of the ladder should play, and we did it by playing team basketball and sharing the ball around.”
Austin Thornton (36 points, 14 rebounds, six assists) hit seven three-pointers in his game-high tally for Newcastle, and was well supported by Sharif Watson (17 points, 14 rebounds, six steals, two blocked shots) and Jacob Foy (17 points, five rebounds).
Captain Josh Morgan handed out 12 assists to go with eight points, five rebounds and three steals, and Jakob Dorricott came off the bench to hit three three-pointers in his return from an ankle injury.
The Hunters out-rebounded the Sharks 55-48 and tallied 24 assists to Sutherland’s eight.
In the women’s game, third-placed Sutherland (10-3) saw off a late Newcastle rally to win 80-73 and leave the Hunters in fourth position with a 9-5 record.
Newcastle could not contain Sutherland guards Shyla Heal (26 points), Chelsie Schweers (24) and Kallie Hovatter (17) over 40 minutes but had their chances in the second half.
After trailing 42-31 at half-time and by as many as 15 during the third quarter, the Hunters pulled within four with two minutes left.
Charlotte Bull’s jumper cut the deficit to 74-69 with 2min 21sec remaining but that was as close as they got.
Hannah Young (20 points, nine rebounds, six assists) and Jasmin Howe (20 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals) led the scoring for Newcastle, and Bull had 11 points, two rebounds and two assists.
Newcastle have a bye next weekend before finishing the regular season away to Bankstown Bruins and Central Coast Crusaders.
Meanwhile, Boston Celtics boss Danny Ainge has heaped praise on Aron Baynes after the Australian big man officially signed his new two-year, $A15 million contract with the storied NBA team.
A record number of Australians are set to play in the NBA when the 2018/19 season begins in October, with new additions headed by three-point specialist Ryan Broekhoff who signed with the Dallas Mavericks, Jonah Bolden likely to join the Philadelphia 76ers after a year in Europe and Jock Landale's strong play on the Atlanta Hawks Summer League squad expected to land him a contract.
"Aron was a big part of our success this past year and we're thrilled to have him back," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said on Saturday.
"He's a great teammate and an anchor to our defence.
"The energy and passion that he brings to the table are contagious."
Baynes, 31, started in 67 of his 81 games for the Celtics last season, including anchoring the team's defence during their run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The NBA had nine Australians on teams at the start of last season but that should be eclipsed despite veteran centre Andrew Bogut departing the US to play in the NBL.
This year's Australian contingent will be led by Baynes, Ben Simmons (76ers), Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs), Mangok Mathiang (Charlotte Hornets), Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker (Milwaukee Bucks) and Joe Ingles and Dante Exum (Utah Jazz).
Victorian and former St Mary's centre Landale averaged seven points and eight rebounds for the Atlanta Hawks in three Summer League games in Utah the past week.
He can continue to impress the coming week with Summer League moving to Las Vegas.
Bolden was solid with six points and six rebounds for the 76ers in Friday's 95-89 Summer League loss to the Celtics.
Other Australians trying to impress in Summer League are Deng Adel (Houston Rockets), Xavier Cooks (Golden State Warriors), Emmett Naar (Phoenix Suns) and Mitch Creek and Duop Reath (Mavericks).