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Game on . . . (Clockwise from right) North Otago under-17 player Toby Lewis (in yellow) leaps to clear the ball; Ryan McCabe (left) tussles with his South Canterbury opponent; Floyd Tayles shoots from deep. PHOTOS: RICHARD CONNELLY/GAMEFACE NZ

North Otago punched well above its weight at the national under-17 basketball championships in Christchurch last weekend.

Despite being drawn in a tough pool, North Otago fought hard to finish in 11th place – and pushed a few top teams along the way.

North Otago opened the tournament with a narrow 96-90 loss to Auckland and went down 99-73 to Wellington, but bounced back to thrash South Canterbury 118-59.

Losing two games meant it missed out on the top eight playoffs, and instead played off for ninth to 12th.

North Otago coach Ian Cathcart said the game against Auckland could have easily gone the other way.

“We had our chances . . . we were pretty close to winning against Auckland,” Cathcart said.

“I was really proud of them after that.”

After a couple of key players went down with injuries, North Otago went on to lose to Northland 79-74 and Counties-Manukau 113-82, but beat Hutt Valley 89-64.

“Credit to the guys, they work hard. They have been committed all year,” Cathcart said.

“For a lot of them it was a step up, but they had put the work in. It wasn’t like they were out of their depth.”

Cathcart said there was a sense from some of the bigger unions that North Otago would be easy to beat, but it proved them wrong.

Auckland went on to narrowly lose the semifinal, so it showed North Otago could compete with the best teams, Cathcart said.

“It’s quite a good feeling to know we were right there.”

North Otago had two players feature on the championship scoring leaderboard. Waitaki Boys’ High School ace Danyon Ashcroft was fifth, averaging more than 22 points per game, and Joshua Reeves averaged more than 31 – leading the tournament for scoring. Joshua attends Otago Boys’ High School, but played for North Otago at the tournament.