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Saints rout Tuatara; Bulls send Giants to 0-2

The Wellington Saints' quest for a 13th National Basketball League (NBL) championship, in their 40th season, began in crushing style.

In head coach Zico Coronel's return the NBL, the Saints routed the Auckland Tuatara 110-80 at Wellington's TSB Arena on Sunday afternoon, with three players scoring 20 points or more.

Tall Blacks forward Hyrum Harris scored a game-high 28 points (10/16 FG, 7/8 FT), along with 11 rebounds and five assists, while national teammate Tohi Smith-Milner produced 22 points (6/10 FG, 4/7 3pt, 6/6 FT) and six boards.

Australian imports Ben Ayre and Lat Mayen were equally impressive, with Ayre going for 20 points (7/18 FG, 4/6 FT) and 12 assists, and Mayen 19 points (6/8 FG, 2/3 3pt, 5/5 FT) and five rebounds

There was also a nice cameo performance off the bench from New Zealand under-16 representative Troy Plumtree, who contributed nine points and five boards.

Former Tall Black and NBL MVP Corey Webster led the Tuatara with 18 points (7/18 FG, 3/8 3pt), seven assists and four rebounds, and there were double-digits efforts from Reuben Te Rangi, Rob Loe and Cam Gliddon.

Te-Rangi scored 17 points (7/14 FG, 2/4 3pt) and four boards, Loe 14 points (5/9 FG, 3/4 3pt), six rebounds and five assists, and Gliddon 13 points (3/8 FG, 2/7 3pt, 5/5 FT) and five rebounds but it was a game to forget for last season’s finalists.

Hyrum Harris
Hyrum Harris had 28 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for the Wellington Saints. PHOTO: NBL

Mayen, the former University of Nebraska forward, piled in 15 first-quarter points and when 17 year-old Plumtree converted a break-away layup the home side were 28-17 ahead at the first break.

Smith-Milner landed a triple and Loe replied in kind but the Saints lead had grown to 35-21 early in the second period. That margin was even greater when guard Rangimarie Dougall-Mita landed from deep and over twenty when Harris took his personal tally into double figures.

Loe and Webster briefly provided the Tuatara with some momentum but it was a half dominated by the Saints who, in front of a big home crowd, took a 58-36 lead into the locker room.

The Tuatara kept the margin in the low twenties in the third period but any thoughts of a comeback from the visitors were quickly extinguished as the Saints, courtesy of Plumtree, Ayre and Harris, scored the first 10 points of the final spell. From there the Saints cruised to the finish line.

The only sour note on an afternoon of delight for Saints supporters was the sight of Mayen retiring to the locker room with a shoulder injury midway through the third quarter.

The Saints face the Nelson Giants on the road in Week 2 on Saturday (tip-off 4pm), while the Tuatara host the Taranaki Airs on Thursday (tip-off 7.30pm).

In Sunday's other game, the Franklin Bulls secured a 86-85 win over the Nelson Giants at the daunting Trafalgar Centre in their season-opener, with just enough defence in the final seconds to seal the road win.

New recruits Sam Timmins and Ethan Rusbatch were joined by fresh-off-the-plane import Luther Muhammad, who had arrived from Finland less than 20 hours before the game.

The American forward stuffed the stat-line with a week-high 34 points (12/24 FG, 9/9 FT), five assists, four rebounds and three steals in a sensational NBL debut, while Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape had 17 points (7/12 FG, 2/3 3pt) and four steals.

Timmins managed 12 points (6/15 FG), 17 rebounds, three steals and three blocks, and Rusbatch 10 points (4/10 FG, 2/7 3pt).

The home side were paced by 22 points (8/13 FG, 5/12 FT), 10 rebounds and two blocks, and Dan Fotu's 19 points (8/15 FG), four assists and five boards.

Nick Davidson produced 15 points (6/11 FG, 2/3 3pt) and two steals, while point guard Alex McNaught put up 13 points (3/8 FG, 6/7 FT), four assists, five rebounds and three steals.

Luther Muhammad
Less than 24 hours off the plane to New Zealand, Luther Muhammad put up 34 points for the Franklin Bulls. PHOTO: NBL

Muhammad exploded for 15 points in the first quarter, as the Bulls used the size of Timmins to their advantage, doubly so when the biggest Giant, Dan Fotu, found himself in early foul trouble.

Trailing by five at halftime, the Giants saw that deficit double early in the third as they could not buy a bucket, but the endeavour of import Dan Grida kept them in it until the shots started to fall, with Grida and Fotu finding ways to expose the Bulls defence late in the third.

Fotu put an exclamation mark on the comeback late in the third with a thunderous dunk over KC Nwafor as the Giants took the lead for the first time.

The Giants extended their lead early in the fourth, as the energy started to pump around the Trafalgar Centre. Leusogi-Ape, however, had different ideas. Alongside Muhammed, Leusogi-Ape put on an exhilarating display of driving and finishing at the hoop to get the Bulls back into the contest.

The lead flipped back and forth throughout the final minutes, with Fotu giving the Giants a lead with just a second remaining on the shot clock, only for Muhammad to answer back with 4.1 seconds left.

Fotu could not get the would-be game-winner to drop, and the Bulls began snuck out of Nelson with the W.

The Bulls are in action again on Sunday (tip-off 4pm) against the defending champion Canterbury Rams, while the Giants welcome the Saints to the Trafalgar Centre.

Wellington Saints 110 (Hyrum Harris 28, Tohi Smith-Milner 22, Ben Ayre 20, Lat Mayen 19) Auckland Tuatara 80 (Corey Webster 18, Reuben Te Rangi 17, Rob Loe 14, Cam Gliddon 13). 1Q: 28-17, HT: 58-36, 3Q: 83-60

Franklin Bulls 86 (Luther Muhammad 34, Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape 17, Sam Timmins 12, Ethan Rusbatch 10) Nelson Giants 85 (Dan Grida 22, Dan Fotu 19, Nick Davidson 15, Alex McNaught 13). 1Q: 25-21, HT: 51-46, 3Q: 67-70


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