In-form Saints rise above Tuatara

A FIFTH straight New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) win has Wellington Saints fans believing they can go all the way, with the reigning premiers knocking off third placed Auckland Tuatara by an impressive 18 points at Eventfinda Stadium last night. Both sides had already stamped their tickets to the Final 6 due to the result earlier in the day – the Saints needed a Hawke’s Bay Hawks win – but the Saints were able to gain a vital confidence boosting win to level with the Tuatara on 10 wins from 18 matches through the 98-80 win.

AUCKLAND TUATARA 8 | 30 | 26 | 16 (80)
WELLINGTON SAINTS 21 | 25 | 27 | 25 (98)

Despite the match being billed as a third against fourth clash, the Wellington Saints stormed out of the blocks in the opening quarter against an out of sorts Auckland Tuatara outfit. The Saints stormed to a 21-8 lead, which came off the back of scoring 12 of the first 14 points in the match. While Tom Vodanovich (11 first quarter points) was near-unstoppable, outscoring the Tuatara as it took until the final three minutes for the home side to score their third and fourth points of the match. After Michael Smith dropped a triple, Siler Schneider responded with a pull up jumper and cut the first break deficit to 13.

Auckland managed to get back some of the momentum early in the second term, trimming it to eight points in the opening stages off the back of a big Chris Johnson dunk and a Kirk Penney triple, but the Saints had the answers. In term two it was Reginald Upshaw Jr (11 points) doing all the damage for the Saints, but the Tuatara won the quarter thanks to the 5-0 start to be 30-25 for the term and reduce the half-time deficit to eight points. Penney (seven points), Johnson (six) and Schneider (five) were trying hard for the Tuatara in the quarter.

The third swung back towards the Saints as they edged ahead by a further point to be nine up at the last change. Nine points off the hand of Xavier Cooks, with a contribution from Upshaw (six) was key, and set up a brilliant last term for the visitors as they stormed into the Final 6 with a 25-16 quarter to run away with the contest by 18 points, 98-80. It was off the back of efforts from Cooks (19 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals), and supporting roles of Upshaw (22 points, six rebounds and three steals) and Smith (17 points, 10 assists and two rebounds). Jordan Ngatai (17 points, seven rebounds) also had a consistent four quarters.

For the Tuatara, Johnson came off the bench to score 24 points in 31 minutes, while pulling down 14 rebounds – 13 defensive, and recording two assists and two blocks. Penney (12 points, four rebounds and two assists) also coming off the bench was strong, while Schneider (16 points, seven assists and six rebounds) and Robert Loe (14 points, 10 rebounds and three assists) also had some big numbers.

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