The Cigna Wellington Saints needed a big second half to stay on their crusade, but got the job done with 101-78 win over the Taranaki Steelformers Mountainairs.
A slow start for the league leaders saw them trail early in the first. Derone Raukawa led the way for the hosts, scoring and distributing his team to a 11-8 lead.
The Saints clicked into gear not long after the five-minute mark and broke the game open with a number of easy twos. The would hold the lead til quarter-time and finished ahead 24-17.
There was very little difference in visitor’s play to start the second, who held the advantage for nearly half the period.
This changed after Raukawa sliced his way inside layup, sparking a 9-0 run for the Airs to regain the lead and go up 43-42 at the break.
One would imagine Paul Henare delivered a stern half time speech, as it was Saints who came out of the interval the aggressor.
Jordan Ngatai and Nick Kay made their opposites pay for their lacklustre defence, scoring in a variety of ways to give their team a double-digit lead.
Alonzo Burton and Raukawa kept the Airs in the fight with some late triples, but their team trailed 73-65 going into the final quarter.
It’s always a tough ask coming from behind against the Saints and yet again they proved too strong.
Ngatai got the ball rolling and they never looked back, with Rob Loe and Sunday Dech piling on the points until Henare got the bench involved.
The Airs will be proud of the way they battled for 30 of the 40 minutes, but they were added to the list to of the Saints’ second half comeback victims.
It’s difficult to tell if the Saints are really being tested, with a Final 4 place safely secured. They will definitely want to finish the regular season undefeated and are only a handful of games away from doing so.
Taranaki Mountainairs 78 lost to Wellington Saints 101
Airs - Derone Raukawa 25pts, Alonzo Burton 16pts.
Saints - Nick Kay 26pts @ 92%, Sunday Dech 16pts & 7stls, Jordan Ngatai 18pts
TAB MVP Votes - Nick Kay (Saints) 9, Sunday Dech (Saints) 9, Derone Raukawa (Airs) 6, Jordan Ngatai (Saints) 3, Chris Early (Airs) 2, Alonzo Burton (Airs) 1.
The Airs shot an efficient 51% from the field and still lost by 20+. The Saints won’t be happy with much of their defence tonight, but their ability to get it done on the other end shows just how dangerous this team is.
Five different players scored in double-digits for the Saints, showing yet again that it will take an otherworldly defensive effort to beat this team to the finish line. On any given night, seven different Saints have shown they can carry the scoring load and back it up on defence.
Shea Ili only played 12 minutes tonight, before being ejected on the back of an unsportsmanlike foul and a technical foul. The star guard is sure to bounce back on Sunday evening with the Saints host the Jets.