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Tuatara go clear in NBL; Saints outlast Bulls

The National Basketball League (NBL) has developed into four distinct tiers at the regular season's mid-point.

The Auckland Tuatara have skipped clear of a chasing group at the top of the standings after eight weeks, improving to 10-2 with a 97-74 victory over the winless Southland Sharks in Invercargill on Saturday night.

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Behind them, four clubs - the defending champion Canterbury Rams, Wellington Saints, Taranaki Airs and Franklin Bulls - have seven wins and look set to jockey for playoff seedings over the final eight weeks.

Next is the Bay Hawks, Nelson Giants, Otago Nuggets and Tauranga Whai - all with four wins - who are currently battling for the sixth and final playoffs berth.

Although still in the hunt, it would require a complete form 180 for the Manawatu Jets (1-9) or Southland Sharks (0-11) to get into the postseason picture.

In Round 9, the Saints and Rams meet in a crucial top-three contest in the Capital on Saturday night, while the Sharks host the Nuggets earlier in the day in Invercargill in the second game of the Deep South Derby.

Ben Ayre Wellington Saints NBL basketball
Ben Ayre scored 30 points as the Wellington Saints topped the Franklin Bulls in an NBL top-four clash. PHOTO: NBL

Australian guard Ben Ayre scored a game-high 30 points (9/22 FG, 3/9 3pt, 9/12 FT) for the Saints, who held off the Bulls 87-85 in Pukekohe on Sunday.

Hyrum Harris returned to the Saints lineup and produced 17 points (8/17 FG), seven rebounds, eight assists and four steals, while Taane Samuel put up 16 points (6/9 FG) and nine boards off the bench.

Ethan Rusbatch top-scored for the Bulls with 22 points (8/16 FG, 5/11 3pt) and five boards, while he got support from Sam Timmins (19 points (7/11 FG, 5/9 FT), 10 rebounds and two blocks), Luther Muhammad (19 points (8/22 FG), eight assists and two steals) and Josh Scott (17 points (5/13 FG, 7/9 FT), four boards and five assists).

Wellington took the lead for good in the second quarter and took control of the game with 10 straight points, including seven points from Ayre, in the third period to take an 11-point lead.

Also on Sunday, the Whai shot 42 percent on three-point attempts to improve to 4-6, seeing off the Giants 83-69 at Nelson's Trafalgar Centre.

After releasing import Vance Jackson Jr earlier in the week, the Whai rebounded from a 96-76 loss to the Rams on Friday night. American big Phil Carr stood up with 25 points (9/12 FG, 2/3 3pt, 5/5 FT) and 12 rebounds.

Kiwi guards Kruz Perrott-Hunt (19 points (5/11 FG, 4/7 3pt, 5/6 FT) and seven boards) and Jayden Bezzant (18 points (7/15 FG, 2/7 3pt), five rebounds and three steals), and American guard Demarcus Holland (10 points, seven boards and seven assists) also made valuable contributions.

Australian forward Dan Grida led the Giants with 24 points (10/26 FG, 4/4 FT), eight rebounds and two steals, while Tall Black Dan Fotu added 17 points (7/10 FG) and eight boards.

The Whai surged to a 12-point lead with an 13-0 run, including back-to-back threes from Perrott-Hunt, late in the third period, before bumping the gap to as many as 16 in the fourth.

As expected, the league-leading Tuatara handled the now 0-11 Sharks, although they did need a big fourth quarter to get the job done at Stadium Southland.

Reigning league MVP Rob Loe was at his best for the Aucklanders, finishing with a game-high 29 points (11/17 FG, 4/7 3pt, 3/6 FT), 10 rebounds and steals, while Corey Webster and Tom Vodanovich each had 20 points.

Webster shot 7-of-14, including a pair of threes, and added a season-high 13 assists, Vodanovich 6-of-13, with three triples, and eight boards. Australian guard Cam Gliddon provided 10 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals.

Alonzo Burton led Southland with 19 points (6/16 FG, 3/11 3pt, 4/4 FT), with support from import guard Caleb Asberry (16 points (5/11 FG, 2/6 3pt, 4/4 FT), seven boards and three steals) and Callum McRae with eight points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

Leading by just two after three quarters, the Tuatara overpowered the Sharks in the fourth, outscoring them 33-12, with a 15-2 burst in the middle stages putting the game out of reach. Loe had 16 points, including three triples, in the fourth.

The Airs had an easier time against the equally-struggling Jets in New Plymouth on Saturday, cruising to a 108-70 victory.

NZ Breakers development player Carlin Davison went off for a game-high 25 points (9/15 FG, 6/10 FT), 11 rebounds and two steals, while Australian forward Sam Froling had 23 points (7/17 FG, 9/10 FT) and 15 boards.

The Cameron brothers, Flynn and Tobias, each had 16 points, Flynn shooting 6-of-10 (2-of-3 on threes) and adding six rebounds, five assists and two steals.

American guard Mustapha Heron led the Jets, who released import Troy Baxter Jr last week, with 21 points (9/15 FG) and five boards, while James Moors had 17 points (7/16 FG), nine rebounds and four assists.

Taranaki, who led by 19 in the first quarter, 31 in the third and 45 in the fourth, forced 23 Jets turnovers, leading directly to 36 points. Their 52-36 rebounding advantage also contributed to 58 points in the paint and 30 second-chance points.

Wellington Saints 87 (Ben Ayre 30, Hyrum Harris 17, Taane Samuel 16, Tohi Smith-Milner 11, Lat Mayen 10) Franklin Bulls 85 (Ethan Rusbatch 22, Sam Timmins 19, Luther Muhammad 19, Josh Scott 17). 1Q: 17-22, HT: 47-42, 3Q: 66-59

Tauranga Whai 83 (Phil Carr 25, Kruz Perrott-Hunt 19, Jayden Bezzant 18, Demarcus Holland 10) Nelson Giants 69 (Dan Grida 24, Dan Fotu 17, Kobe Langley 13). 1Q: 20-17, HT: 40-38, 3Q: 59-49

Auckland Tuatara 97 (Rob Loe 29, Corey Webster 20, Tom Vodanovich 20, Cam Gliddon 10) Southland Sharks 74 (Alonzo Burton 19, Caleb Asberry 16, Scott Telfer 12, Brayden Inger 11). 1Q: 20-19, HT: 42-38, 3Q: 64-62

Taranaki Airs 108 (Carlin Davison 25, Sam Froling 23, Flynn Cameron 16, Tobias Cameron 16) Manawatu Jets 70 (Mustapha Heron 21, James Moors 17). 1Q: 34-18, HT: 54-36, 3Q: 78-58

Canterbury Rams 96 (MJ Walker 19, KJ Buffen 16, Lachlan Olbrich 16, Taylor Britt 13, Walter Brown 12) Tauranga Whai 76 (Jayden Bezzant 21, Te Tuhi Lewis 13, Demarcus Holland 12, Phil Carr 11). 1Q: 19-19, HT: 41-32, 3Q: 68-47


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