A short-handed Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams have enjoyed a 90-83 win over the Wellington Saints with a suffocating defensive zone and a masterful offensive show by Taylor Britt, Sunday Dech and Max Darling.
The dynamic trio combined for 76 points in the victory and came up big during a final nine-minute stanza that saw the home team perfect an 16-point turnaround to take the win over the 2021 Sal's NBL champions.
Having already topped the Saints in round 4, this follow-up victory is likely to prove crucial in the battle for the Final 6, especially if the Saints do manage a big run of wins over the second half of the season, which they will now need if they hope to defend their title.
The Saints went in with just one win from five games, that victory coming last week over the winless Manawatu Jets, but importantly their stocks were boosted dramatically just days out from this clash when Australian NBL star Xavier Cooks arrived in the capital.
In front of yet another sold-out vocal crowd at Cowles Stadium, the Rams were forced to adjust starting unit with imports Ryan Taylor (illness) and Matur Maker (injured) both out of action, while Joe Cook-Green was also absent with injury.
Given the absences, the Rams delivered a strategy that centred around a persistent zone defence and had the Saints second guessing and hesitant for much of the contest with scoring hard to come by. And it worked.
While the visitors edged the Rams 20-18 in a tight first period, there was a lot to like about Britt and his dynamic ability to get the basket and as the second quarter unfolded his ability to score and also bring the likes of Dech and Darling into the game started to create headaches for the visitors.
Down 40-43 at the half, the Saints adjusted early in the third period and immediately started to find easier paths to the hoop through Xavier Cooks and Tom Vodanovich, the two big men showing signs they will be a handful the rest of the way in season 2022.
A triple from the hand of Kenneth Tuffin in the dying seconds of the third period put the Saints up 65-61 with a quarter to play.
Cooks and Mike Smith opened the final period with back-to-back baskets, pushing the Saints to a 70-61 advantage with nine minutes to play, but that's where the fun stopped for the visitors.
With Britt back on the floor and pushing the tempo, the Rams went on a barnstorming 29-13 run, leaving the Saints stuck in concrete and without answers at the offensive end.
Despite the loss there were some good signs for the Saints with Cooks sublime on debut with 22 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and 3 blocks, but that won't be enough to bring a smile to the Saints as they desperately now try to keep their Final 6 chances alive.
With the win the Rams move to 5-3 and now look ahead to a match-up with the Bulls in round 7, but the immediate pressure continues on the 1-5 Saints with the Airs waiting for them this Sunday afternoon in New Plymouth.
SCORE: Rams 90, Saints 83
Rams: Taylor Britt 28 PTS, 5 AST | Dech 28 PTS | Max Darling 20 PTS, 8 REB
Saints: Xavier Cooks 22 PTS, 12 REB, 11 AST, 3 BLK | Taane Samuel 20 PTS | Tom Vodanovich 17 PTS
Full box score HERE.
Stuff MVP Votes
Taylor Britt (Rams) - 10 votes
Xavier Cooks (Saints) - 7 votes
Sunday Dech (Rams) - 7 votes
Taane Samuel (Saints) - 2 votes
Max Darling (Rams) - 2 votes
Tom Vodanovich (Saints) - 2 votes
Rams – June 12 @ Franklin Bulls
Saints – June 5 @ Taranaki Airs
Round 6 Sal's NBL Schedule