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Comfortable NBL wins for Saints, Nuggets

The Wellington Saints and Otago Nuggets have both eased to Saturday night National Basketball League (NBL) wins.

The Saints led wire-to-wire in an unexpectedly lop-sided top-four clash against the Taranaki Airs at New Plymouth's TSB Stadium, winning 96-85, after the Nuggets took care of the Bay Hawks 108-86 at Dunedin's Edgar Centre.


Tall Blacks forward Tohi Smith-Milner had one of his best all-around games of the season despite poor three-point shooting, finishing with a game-high 28 points (11/23 FG, 3/13 3pt, 3/5 FT), with 16 rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

Taane Samuel was equally impressive, with 22 points (9/12 FG, 3/6 FT), six boards and two steals, while Tall Blacks guard Izayah Le'afa put up 16 points (4/16 FG, 3/9 3pt, 5/5 FT), seven rebounds, 11 assists and two steals.

Off the bench, import Malik Benlevi added 15 points (6/12 FG) and six boards, while Australian guard Ben Ayre had 11 points (9/11 FT) and a team-high eight assists as the Saints assisted on 24 of 33 field goals.

NZ Breakers development forward Carlin Davison led the Airs with 19 points (9/14 FG), eight rebounds and five assists, supported by 15 points (7/14 FG), 13 boards and three blocks from Australian big Sam Froling.

Tohi Smith-Milner Wellington Saints basketball
Tohi Smith-Milner recorded a big double-double for the Wellington Saints, with 28 points and 16 rebounds. PHOTO: NBL

Breakers guard Mitch McCarron had 13 points (5/5 FG), nine boards, six assists and two steals, while Tobias Cameron provided 12 points (4/13 FG, 3/4 FT) off the bench.

In a game where neither team shot the ball well, the Saints went up 12 points late in the first period with an 11-0 run. Taranaki answered with an 11-2 burst in the second to tie it up again.

The Saints led by just one late in the third quarter before outscoring the Airs 15-5 over the next three minutes to lead 72-61 entering the final period. Seven straight points extended the lead to 18 points with 5:58 remaining.

In Week 12, the Saints (10-4) are off until next Sunday (tip-off 6.30pm), hosting the Franklin Bulls (8-4), while the Airs (9-4) head to Dunedin for the first game of their Deep South double-header against the Nuggets (6-8) on Wednesday (tip-off 7.30pm)

The Nuggets to a much-need home win off the back of Australian wing Ben Henshall's hot shooting and game-high 31 points (12/22 FG, 7/14 3pt), eight rebounds and five assists.

American forward Kimani Lawrence was not far behind with 26 points (12/20 FG) and seven boards, while Kiwi big Jack Andrew added an efficient 16 points (8/11 FG) and seven rebounds.

Import Zaccheus Darko-Kelly recorded a double-double, with 11 points (4/10 FG, 2/5 3pt), 12 boards, five assists and two steals, while young Kiwi guard Dontae Russo-Nance also put up 11 points (4/11 FG) and five rebounds.

American guard Isaiah Moore again led the Hawks, with 23 points (6/16 FG, 11/12 FT), five boards and five assists, backe up by 21 points (8/13 FG, 5/5 FT) and 11 rebounds. Australians Luke Sutherland and Keanu Rasmussen had 17 points and eight rebounds, and 15 points and two steals, respectively.

Ben Henshall Otago Nuggets basketball
Ben Henshall hit seven threes in his game-high 31 points for the Otago Nuggets. PHOTO: NBL

After trading the lead four times in the early minutes, the Hawks settled into the lead. The Nuggets outscored the Hawks 18-6 to take a seven-point lead into the first break.

Brent Matahaere's side then scored 13 straight points early in the second, kick-starting an overall 30-11 stretch - with Henshall hitting two triples and scoring 10 points - to turn the game into a 24-point blowout.

The Hawks scored the last six points of the half but the momentum did not carry over to the second half, as the visitors only got within 13 points twice - midway through the third and early in the fourth - for the rest of the game.

The result leaves the Nuggets, Hawks and Nelson Giants all tied at 6-8 for the sixth and final NBL Playoffs spot, with the first-year Tauranga Whai one game back with six games remaining.

Next week, the Nuggets have a short turnaround before entertaining the Airs at the Edgar Centre, while the Hawks (6-8) return home to face the Giants (6-8) on Saturday (tip-off 7.30pm) in a game with big implications.

Wellington Saints 96 (Tohi Smith-Milner 28, Taane Samuel 22, Izaya Le'afa 16, Malik Benlevi 15, Ben Ayre 11) Taranaki Airs 85 (Carlin Davison 19, Sam Froling 15, Mitch McCarron 13, Tobias Cameron 12). 1Q: 28-17, HT: 46-41, 3Q: 72-61

Otago Nuggets 108 (Ben Henshall 31, Kimani Lawrence 26, Jack Andrew 16, Dontae Russo-Nance 11, Zaccheus Darko-Kelly 11) Bay Hawks 86 (Isaiah Moore 23, Josh Roberts 21, Luke Sutherland 17, Keanu Rasmussen 15). 1Q: 31-24, HT: 61-43, 3Q: 83-68


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