The Wellington Saints and Property Brokers Manawatu Jets entered Sunday’s Sal’s NBL Round 5 contest with an identical 0-4 record.
Despite a hiccup in the fourth quarter, it was the defending NBL champions, the Saints, that were able to record a first win of the season – a 97-88 victory on the McFadden Court at the TSB Bank Arena in Wellington.
The Saints appeared to be cruising at three-quarter time with a 70-54 advantage but the Jets had other ideas.
Inspired by import guard Robert Crawford (23 points) the Jets had trimmed the Saints advantage to six points (87-81) with three minutes to play.
John Bohannon’s free-throws made it just a four-point game to test the nerves of the home crowd before a Tom Vodanovich three eased those jangling nerves.
Crawford’s fifth triple of the contest put them back on edge but Kenneth Tuffin made a fourth of his own to finally open the Saints account in the win column.
Led by Tuffin’s 23 points all the Saints starters scored in double figures.
On the day a two-year deal with the New Zealand Breakers was announced Vodanovich scored 20 points to add to 16 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. Samuel also scored 20, point guard Michael Smith tallied 15 and Jordan Ngatai chimed in with a dozen points.
In addition to Crawford’s haul Shane Temara finished with 21 points, Bohannon 16 (plus 16 rebounds), Zane Najdawi 12 and Pafe Momoisea 11.
Momoisea had knocked down a couple of threes to open the contest but Tuffin more than matched that. His 11 points propelled the Saints to a flying start - up 31-22 in a high scoring opening ten minutes.
Teenager Nathaniel Salmon, back in his hometown, made a couple of impressive scores and when import centre Bohannon scored on the break the difference was only five points and Saints coach Guy Molloy needed a timeout.
The Saints scored nine straight points after the restart and it was Natu Taufale’s turn to gather his charges.
A break-away dunk from Vodanovich put an exclamation mark on the first half – the Saints ahead 57-42 at the interval.
The scoring slowed to a crawl in the third, a period edged by the hosts 13-12, but with a 16-point buffer a home win looked a formality.
The Jets had other ideas but their fourth quarter charge came up just short.
Xavier Cooks is expected in the capital later in the week, the Saints will be hoping he is available for selection for their double-header road trip over Queens Birthday Weekend.
SCORE: Saints 97, Jets 88
Saints: Tuffin 23 PTS | Samuel 20 PTS | Vodanovich 20 PTS, 16 REBS & 6 ASSISTS |SMITH 15 PTS | NGATAI 12 PTS
Jets: Crawford 23 PTS |Temara 21 PTS | Bohannon 16 PTS & 16 REBS |NAJDAWI 12 PTS | Momoisea 11 PTS |
Full box score HERE.
Stuff MVP Votes
Tom Vodanovich (Saints) - 9 votes
Kenneth Tuffin (Saints) - 8 votes
Shane Temara (Jets) - 5 votes
Robert Crawford (Jets) - 4 votes
John Bohannon (Jets) - 2 votes
Jordan Ngatai (Saints) - 2 votes
Saints– June 3 @ Canterbury Rams
Jets – June 5 @ Franklin Bulls
Round 5 Sal's NBL Schedule