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Airs hold off Bulls in top-four NBL clash

The Taranaki Airs have taken a big step towards locking up the No 3 seed for the National Basketball League (NBL) playoffs.

The Airs saw off the Franklin Bulls 100-96 in a top-four clash at Pukekohe's Franklin Leisure Centre on Sunday to culminate Week 13, improving to 12-4 and moving 1.5 games ahead of the Bulls and Wellington Saints.


Despite being without Tall Blacks guard Flynn Cameron, NZ Breakers signing Mitch McCarron, Australian Sam Froling and playing with only one import, Taranaki still had enough depth on their roster to get by the Bulls at The Stockyard.

American forward Elijah Minnie fired up for a season-high 30 points (8/16 FG, 4/9 3pt, 10/11 FT), four rebounds and six blocks, while Breakers development player Carlin Davison put up 21 points (9/13 FG, 3/5 FT), five boards, seven assists and two steals.

Injected into the starting-five, Tobias Cameron finished with 15 points (6/12 FG), seven rebounds, four assists and three steals, Derone Raukawa 12 points (4/11 FG, 2/6 3pt) and five assists, and Quintin Bailey 12 points (5/10 FG) and five boards.

American forward Luther Muhammad had a game-high 32 points (14/25 FG, 2/5 3pt), eight rebounds and three steals, supported by Kiwi big Sam Timmins with 26 points (10/14 FG, 6/6 FT), 11 boards and five assists.

Elijah Minnie Taranaki Airs NBL basketball
Elijah Minnie put up 30 points and blocked six shots for the Taranaki Airs. PHOTO: NBL

Dom Kelman-Poto recorded a double-double with 12 points (4/8 FG), 10 boards and two steals, and Josh Scott had 12 points (5/15 FG) and two steals.

After a slow start, Taranaki pulled ahead with an 11-2 run. They grew the lead to 10 points but the Bulls levelled it up just before halftime. The Airs again went up 13 points midway through the third period but Franklin answered with a 22-7 stretch to retake the lead.

Although they trailed with 8:14 remaining, timely threes from Minnie, Raukawa and Nico Hill in the fourth period kept the Bulls at arm's-length.

Both teams play quick-fire double-headers in Week 14. The Airs (12-4) are at the Bay Hawks (6-10) on Wednesday (tip-off 7.30pm) and at home to the Canterbury Rams (14-2) on Friday (tip-off 7.30pm), while the Bulls (10-5) at the Tauranga Whai (6-11) on Thursday (tip-off 7.30pm) and at home against the Auckland Tuatara (14-3) on Saturday (tip-off 7.30pm).

Earlier on Sunday, the Whai topped the Otago Nuggets 66-59 at Dunedin's Edgar Centre in a game of brutal shooting.

Former 3x3 Tall Blacks guard Jayden Bezzant lead the Whai with 17 points (7/14 FG), four rebounds and three assists, while American power forward Phil Carr had 16 points (4/12 FG, 8/9 FT), 10 boards and four steals.

Import forward Kimani Lawrence had a game-high 20 points (9/17 FG), six rebounds and three assists for the undermanned Nuggets, and fellow American Zaccheus Darko-Kelly 16 points (6/14 FG, 4/11 3pt) and 11 boards.

From 10 points down just after halftime, the Whai came back to lead by five early in the fourth. Eight straight points put the Nuggets up three but the Whai scored the game's final 10 points over the last 3:30.

Up next, the Whai host the Bulls on Thursday in Tauranga, while the Nuggets (6-11) are away to the Wellington Saints (11-6) on Saturday (tip-off 4pm).

Jayden Bezzant Tauranga Whai NBL basketball
Jayden Bezzant helped guide the Tauranga Whai to a road win over the Nuggets. PHOTO: NBL

Headlining other games in Week 13, the league-leading and defending champion Canterbury Rams made it 13 straight wins, with a 110-85 home win over the Wellington Saints on Saturday, getting 33 points from KJ Buffen and 32 from Lachlan Olbrich.

The Saints, without Tall Blacks guard Izayah Le'afa, routed the Bay Hawks 117-91 in Napier on Thursday night, with four starters scoring 20-plus points.

Youngsters Braydon Iuli (20 points), Tukaha Cooper (20) and Charlie Dalton (19) all stepped up as the Auckland Tuatara, missing a trio of Tall Blacks, blew away the Nuggets at home 102-70 on Wednesday night.

The Southland Sharks got off the bottom of the standings with their second win of the year, 93-82 over the Whai in Invercargill on Friday night, thanks to 27 points from import Caleb Asberry, while the Giants got a crucial 104-77 win over the Manawatu Jets in Palmerston North on Saturday.

Taranaki Airs 100 (Elijah Minnie 30, Carlin Davison 21, Tobias Cameron 15, Derone Raukawa 12, Quintin Bailey 12) Franklin Bulls 96 (Luther Muhammad 32, Sam Timmins 26, Josh Scott 12, Dom Kelman-Poto 12). 1Q: 25-21, HT: 49-43, 3Q: 70-67

Tauranga Whai 66 (Jayden Bezzant 17, Phil Carr 16, Kruz Perrott-Hunt 12, Demarcus Holland 10) Otago Nuggets 59 (Kimani Lawrence 20, Zaccheus Darko-Kelly 16, Jack Andrew 11). 1Q: 18-21, HT: 28-36, 3Q: 48-51


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