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Saints, Whai pick up big NBL victories

The Wellington Saints and Mid-North Whai have turned close games into comfortable wins in the National Basketball League (NBL) on Sunday.

Up three entering the fourth quarter, the Saints pulled away down the stretch for a 103-86 win over the Taranaki Airs, while the Whai used a big third period to come away with an 88-73 win against the Southland Sharks.

Izayah Le'afa lit up Wellington's TSB Arena with a game-high 27 points (8/16 FG, 7/13 3pt, 4/5 FT), with five rebounds, four assists and four steals, but it was forward Hyrum Harris who truly stuffed the stat-sheet, with 23 points (11/20 FG), 14 boards, eight assists and five steals.

Imports Lat Mayen (19 points on 8-of-13 shooting) and Malik Benlevi (13 points on 6-of-12 shooting, with six rebounds) provided support, while Tohi Smith-Milner managed 11 points (3/10 FG, 4/5 FT) and five boards.

Tall Blacks guard Flynn Cameron and Australian forward Sam Froling had a joint team-high 22 points for the Airs. Cameron shot 8-of-17 from the field, including 4-of-10 on three-point attempts, adding nine rebounds, while Froling went 9-of-14, and 4-of-7 from the free-throw line, ripping down 11 boards.

American forward Elijah Minnie produced 16 points (7/11 FG), with eight rebounds and two blocks, while Tobias Cameron had nine points and Derone Raukawa seven points.

Hyrum Harris Wellington Saints NBL basketball
Saints forward Hyrum Harris finished two assists shy of a triple-double. PHOTO: NBL

Ahead for most of the game, the Saints found themselves down four midway through the third quarter, before a 13-2 burst, which included threes from Mayen and Le'afa, put them ahead 74-67 with 1:59 remaining.

The Saints then put the game away with a 15-4 run in the fourth, with Mayen and Le'afa connecting again from deep.

Earlier, Wellington led early before Taranaki reeled off 10 straight points to take a short-lived lead, which the Saints eliminated immediately with 12 of the next 14 points to lead by seven. Taranaki remained close before a 12-2 run just before halftime brought them level.

Next up, the Saints (4-1) host the Bay Hawks (2-2) on Anzac Day (tip-off 7.30pm), while the Airs (2-2) have a road double-header at the Whai (2-2) and Nelson Giants (2-3) in Week 5.

The Whai had six players, including all five starters, score in double-digits, led by American forward Vance Jackson Jr, who managed 19 points (7/15 FG, 5/9 3pt), nine rebounds and two blocks.

Young Kiwi guards Jett Thompson and Kruz Perrott-Hunt were next, Thompson with 14 points (5/9 FG, 2/4 3pt) and three steals, and Perrott-Hunt 13 points (4/12 FG, 2/8 3pt) and two steals. Phil Carr, Denhym Brooke and Demarcus Holland all had 12 points.

American shooting guard LaGerald Vick again led the Sharks, finishing with a game-high 21 points (7/15 FG, 3/6 3pt, 4/4 FT), seven boards and two steals, while Callum McRae put up 17 points (7/15 FG), 11 rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

Vick and Ben Hall hit threes to open the game and the Sharks led 8-0 inside the opening three minutes. The Whai gradually pulled back the gap, leading before the end of the first period.

They took the lead for good late in the second period but were still only seven ahead midway through the third, before scoring 13 straight points, culminated with back-to-back threes from Jackson Jr, to lead 68-48.

The Whai (2-2) welcome the Airs (2-2) to Tauranga on Friday (tip-off 7.30pm), while the Sharks (0-6) return to Invercargill to face the Canterbury Rams (2-2) on Saturday (tip-off 7.30pm).

Wellington Saints 103 (Izayah Le'afa 27, Hyrum Harris 23, Lat Mayen 19, Malik Benlevi 13, Tohi Smith-Milner 11) Taranaki Airs 86 (Flynn Cameron 22, Sam Froling 22, Elijah Minnie 16). 1Q: 33-29, HT: 54-54, 3Q: 74-71

Mid-North Whai 88 (Vance Jackson Jr 19, Jett Thompson 14, Kruz Perrott-Hunt 13, Phil Carr 12, Denhym Brooke 12, Demarcus Holland 12) Southland Sharks 73 (LaGerald Vick 21, Callum McRae 17, Ben Hall 10, Marcale Lotts 10). 1Q: 18-18, HT: 45-41, 3Q: 73-57


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