Airs produce stunning comeback to down Bulls

BATTLING for a top two spot in the Final 6, Taranaki Mountainairs came back from an 18-point deficit to defeat Franklin Bulls by seven points in a memorable win on the road. The New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) clash had plenty on the line for both sides, with the Airs still in contention for top spot, while the Bulls needed a victory to remain in Top 6 contention, and it was the latter who raced out to a 15-point lead at quarter time and as much as 18 points during the second term, only for the Airs to roar to life – survive a fourth term comeback – and win, 93-86.

FRANKLIN BULLS 26 | 22 | 14 | 24 (86)
TARANAKI AIRS 11 | 34 | 24 | 24 (93)

Desperate for a win to keep their Final 6 hopes alive and on their own terms, the Franklin Bulls fired up early, racing to a 13-3 lead in the opening term on their way to a 26-11 first quarter against Taranaki Airs. Both Isaac Davidson and Joshua Leger had scoring runs, while Anzac Rissetto also contributed multiple baskets in the impressive start for the home team. When Davidson and then Leon Henry scored in the opening minute of the second term, the scoreboard read 31-13 and it was seemingly all one-way traffic. Few could have predicted that in six and a half minutes minutes, the Airs would be leading the match.

Taranaki Airs had plenty of contributors as they piled on 28 of the next 37 points to stunningly hit the front with 2:26 on the clock. Anthony Hilliard (10 points in that run) was the key architect, while Javonte Douglas and Carlin Davison also contributed to the lead. Luckily for the Bulls, a late burst from Risetto (three points) and Corey Webster (five) handed Franklin the lead back at half-time. That would prove to only be temporary though as Marcel Jones levelled the scores with an early triple in the first 30 seconds of the second half, and Hilliard put his side in front. A dominant 24-14 quarter had the Airs now in control by seven after scoring 58-36 the last two terms.

Davidson and Rissetto clawed away at the lead to cut it to a one point deficit midway through the quarter, but the depth of Jones, Hilliard and Shaun Willett quickly made it an eight-point ball game again. Webster’s shooting from long-range was providing vital in keeping the home team in it, but they could not close the gap beyond vie, and the likes of Douglas and Willett secured the win via free throws with a 93-86 triumph.

Three Airs recorded double-doubles as the starting five all had days out. Willett (24 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two blocks), Jones (20 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals) and Douglas (15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) all achieved the feat. Hilliard (21 points and three of nine from beyond the arc, five rebounds and three assists) and Davison (nine points, eight rebounds and two assists) rounded out the five. Rissetto also picked up a double-double in the loss thanks to 27 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, teaming up well with Webster (24 points, four of 15 from long-range, six rebounds and six assists). Davidson (17 points, eight rebounds and five assists) was the other key scorer for the Bulls in the loss.

Taranaki Airs take on Nelson Giants in a top of the table clash on August 4, while Franklin Bulls lock horns with Otago Nuggets on August 7.

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