The Canterbury Rams held on for an 89-81 win in the Sal's NBL round four's dose of Thursday Night Lights against a Hawke's Bay Hawks outfit determined to take their winning streak to four games.
Played at a packed Cowles Stadium and beamed around the country live on SKY and Prime TV, both teams delivered an entertaining show of top-flight basketball.
Rams big man Mike Karena got the crowd going early with 13-points in the first quarter, ably supported by Tony Tolovae (6pts), who made the most of his first start of the season. A 24-17 advantage at the first break for the Rams was extended to a 46-36 lead by the half as Cameron Gliddon started to find his range for the home team.
After getting a rev-up at the half, the Hawks came out firing and pounded the ball inside to Angus Brandt, who started to find his shot and dragged the visitors back into the game. As they made their run around Brandt and EJ Singler, the Rams were forced to hold their nerve as Emmett Naar and Taylor Britt dropped steadying baskets.
Enter the last quarter and the game was up for grabs. Isaiah Wilkins was a power for the Rams time and time again, while Karena finally got going again and started to score inside the paint. Both Tolovae and Gliddon continued to excite the fans, while Luke Aston added some important minutes off the bench.
Though he started the night on fire, Ethan Rusbatch couldn't land a blow from range when it was most needed, but he still dropped 22pts as he changed up and started attacking the rim with ferocity. Rusbatch, Singler and Brandt never left the floor, playing all 40 minutes for the Hawks.
Down the stretch the Rams continued their trademark run and came up with a couple of fast breaks that finally put the game beyond reach of the Hawks. The result an important victory after last week's loss to the Saints.
The Rams improve to 3-2 on the season, while the Hawks also now sit at 3-2.
Rams 89 (Karena 23pts, Gliddon 19pts, Tolovae 16pts, Wilkins 11pts) defeated Hawks 81 (Brandt 23pts & 17rbs, Rusbatch 22pts, Singler 15pts)