The Cigna Wellington Saints will leave Tasmania with their perfect record still intact, after defeating the Southern Huskies 91-86.
It was as the old cliche goes, "a game of two halves", at the Derwent Entertainment Centre tonight, with the hosts setting the pace from the tip-off. The Huskies shot out to a 13-8 lead after four minutes, converting on all but one shot to get their offence into a rhythm. The visitors were within one possession for the majority of the period thanks to a collective effort from their starting five, but a trip to the charity stripe as well as a Marcel Jones trey pushed the lead 24-17 at the first interval.
The Huskies would stay in their groove from the outset of the second quarter but were matched by the Saints up until three-quarters of the way through the first half. Craig Moller would kick-start the Huskies 10-0 run by draining a floater, with Jones following his teammate up with his own jumper from the elbow. Ili would score his team's only point from the last six minutes from a trip to the line and nailed the pair to see keep the score at 47-32 at half time.
A big third quarter was needed for the Saints to get themselves back into the game and that they delivered. Points inside from Rob Loe and Nick Kay got their team on the front foot before Reuben Te Rangi made a huge splash and cut the lead to 10. Kay and Loe chimed in again to drop it to single-digits, with Ili then snatching the advantage back with a pair of ones. The lead would chop and change for the remaining five minutes in the period, but a roof-raising dunk and go-ahead three by big man Jalen Billups saw the Huskies stay in the driver's seat going into the fourth, 67-64.
The final quarter was a similar story to what happened late in the third. Neither side was able to shake the other one off and traded points up until the last few minutes. Miniature maestro, Tre Nichols, sunk a huge trey with just over three minutes to go to put his team up eight, but seven consecutive points from Kay, Ili and Jordan Ngatai brought the game back to within one and left the Hobart crowd with nervous faces for the closing moments. Kay scored a right-hand lay-up to give the visitors the upper-hand with 40 seconds remaining and Ili would find his way to the line for the sixth time and push them out to a three-point buffer. Jones turned the ball over on the ensuing possession and Sunday Dech made the Kiwi import pay with two at the other end. Ball game. 91-86 to the Saints.
Ili received the Sal's MVP award for a 25 point and 10 assist double-double, while Nick Kay also notched the same milestone only with rebounds (14) and 19 points. The remaining starters, besides Ngatai, scored in the double-figures although sixth-man Dech made up for the skipper's quiet night with 12 from the pine.
Huskies debutant but Sal's NBL veteran Marcel Jones was the pick of the Tasmanians, scoring 28 points and pulling down nine boards. Moller finished with another double-double after tallying 15 in each statistical category, while Billups once again put up big points with another 20-point haul.
FULL STATS HERE.