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Tuatara, Rams, Saints pick up NBL wins

The Wellington Saints have moved to the top of the National Basketball League (NBL) standings after a close Anzac Day win.

The Saints improved to 5-1 with a 111-104 home win over the Bay Hawks at Wellington's TSB Arena on Thursday night, while the defending champion Canterbury Rams topped the Otago Nuggets 96-81 in Dunedin and the Auckland Tuatara claimed the first 'Battle in the North' over the Franklin Bulls 92-74.

Tall Blacks forward Tohi Smith-Milner led the Capital side with 24 points (7/15 FG, 3/10 3pt, 7/10 FT), 13 rebounds and four assists, while national teammate Izayah Le'afa posted 23 points (8/18 FG, 4/13 3pt), six assists and three steals.

Australian guard Ben Ayre chimed in with 22 points (8/14 FG, 2/4 3pt), five boards and four assists, Lat Mayen 20 points (9/20 FG), seven rebounds and two blocks, and import Malik Benlevi 14 points (4/7 FG, 3/4 3pt) and two steals off the bench.

American guard Isaiah Moore stuff the stat-sheet for the Hawks, dropping a game-high 35 points (15/24 FG, 3/5 3pt), five boards, seven assists and two steals, supported by Australian guard Keanu Rasmussen, with 24 points (10/18 FG, 4/9 3pt) and 10 boards.

Tall Blacks forward Jordan Ngatai contributed 20 points (7/15 FG, 3/9 3pt), five rebounds and three steals, while Lucas Sutherland had 15 points (6/14 FG, 2/5 3pt).

Tohi Smith-Milner Wellington Saints basketball
Tohi Smith-Milner led the Saints with 24 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. PHOTO: NBL

After a first period that featured five lead changes, the Saints built a nine-point lead midway through the second quarter.

The Hawks pulled it back to a three-point game by halftime and then took the lead with the first five points of the third period. However, the Saints answered with 15 straight points, including two triples from Le'afa to take a 70-57 lead.

Behind the play of Rasmussen, the visitors fought all the back to take a 92-91 lead with 5:45 remaining in the game, but the Saints outscored the Hawks 20-12 on the run home.

The Saints (5-1) have an extended period off before facing the Manawatu Jets (1-5) in Palmerston North on May 5, while the Hawks (2-3) host the Mid-North Whai (2-2) in Napier on Wednesday (tip-off 7.30pm).

The Rams moved into the top-four at Dunedin's Edgar Centre on Anzac Day afternoon in a game they took control of late in the first quarter with a 12-0 run.

American forward James Walker Jr scored a game-high 29 points (9/17 FG, 5/9 3pt, 6/6 FT) for the Rams, while Australian big man Lachlan Olbrich posted 21 points (10/14 FG), nine rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

Import forward Kenyon Buffin Jr recorded a double-double, with 11 points (4/10 FG) and 10 boards, while Tall Blacks forward Taki Fahrensohn managed 10 points (4/6 FG, 2/3 3pt) off the bench and Walter Brown seven points and 13 rebounds.

For the Nuggets, American forward Kimani Lawrence had a team-high 19 points (7/18 FG, 5/12 FT), with 11 boards and two steals, Australian guard Ben Henshall 15 points (3/12 FG, 3/8 3pt, 6/7 FT), four boards and two steals, and Kiwi centre Jack Andrew 10 points (4/6 FG) and four rebounds.

The Rams (3-2) complete their Deep South double-header against the Southland Sharks (0-6) on Saturday (tip-off 7.30pm), while the Nuggets (3-2) travel to Christchurch to face the Rams next Thursday (tip-off 7.30pm).

The Tuatara became the first team to five wins this season on Wednesday night at Eventfinda Stadium, powering away in the second half, outscoring the Bulls 44-27.

Last season's MVP Rob Loe paced the Tuatara with 22 points (6/10 FG, 2/4 3pt, 8/12 FT), 13 rebounds and four blocks, while Tom Vodanovich had 20 points (4/8 FG, 3/6 3pt, 9/13 FT), and six boards.

Former Tall Black Corey Webster put up 19 points (6/18 FG, 7/8 FT) and 11 assists, while Reuben Te Rangi had 12 points (4/7 FG, 2/3 3pt) and Cam Gliddon 12 points (4/13 FG, 2/8 3pt), 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

The Bulls got 17 points (5/13 FG, 6/7 FT) from import Luther Muhammad, 16 points (7/12 FG, 2/6 3pt), four boards, two steals and two blocks from Jarrell Brantley, and 15 points (7/19 FG) and five assists from guard Josh Scott.

The Tuatara (5-2) are back on the court on Saturday (tip-off 4pm) against the Jets (1-5), while the Bulls (4-1) will look to get back in the win column at home to the Whai (2-2) on Sunday (tip-off 3pm).

Wellington Saints 111 (Tohi Smith-Milner 24, Izayah Le'afa 23, Ben Ayre 22, Lat Mayen 20, Malik Benlevi 14) Bay Hawks 104 (Isaiah Moore 35, Keanu Rasmussen 24, Jordan Ngatai 20, Lucas Sutherland 15). 1Q: 31-31, HT: 55-52, 3Q: 81-77

Canterbury Rams 96 (James Walker Jr 29, Lachlan Olbrich 21, Kenyon Buffin Jr 11, Taki Fahrensohn 10) Otago Nuggets 81 (Kimani Lawrence 19, Ben Henshall 15, Matthew Bardsley 10, Jack Andrew 10). 1Q: 22-18, HT: 42-33, 3Q: 70-53

Auckland Tuatara 92 (Rob Loe 22, Tom Vodanovich 20, Corey Webster 19, Cam Gliddon 12, Reuben Te Rangi 12) Franklin Bulls 74 (Luther Muhammad 17, Jarrell Brantley 16, Josh Scott 15). 1Q: 23-23, HT: 48-47, 3Q: 73-65


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