The Taranaki Steelformers Airs have stunned the Auckland Tuatara 88-86 in New Plymouth on Friday night.
The teams combined for 24 turnovers in what was a sloppy first half. The Tuatara had a 48-40 lead at halftime behind some efficient shooting (57% FG) and a perfect 6-of-6 from the field by guard Dontae Russo-Nance. The 17-year-old did it on the defensive end, too, swiping three steals. The poise Russo-Nance shows at such a young age is impressive and he's going to be a key piece in the Tuatara's championship hopes. He would finish with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting with four steals.
American import Anthony Hilliard dropped 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting and 4-of-5 from three in the first half for the Airs but he didn't get much support. Tall Black Tai Wynyard was aggressive with seven points on 3-of-4 from the field, but no one Taranaki player was over five points.
The Airs got it going in the third quarter, outscoring the Tuatara 25-19. They were strong on the glass creating second chance opportunities with regularity.
The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair with both teams trading blows. Anthony Hilliard hit a step-back jumper to give the Airs a two-point lead with 5.8 second left and it would be enough to give the the big victory. He was huge with 34 points on 8-of-13 from three, making it look easier on the offensive end throughout the game.
The come from behind win for the Airs is their fourth overall on the season and they've put themselves firmly in the Top-6 conversation. Their import duo of Hilliard and Javonte Douglas, the latter finishing with 16 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists, are one of the top duos in the league and you add that with the likes of Tai Wynyard and Marcel Jones, and you've got yourself a solid foundation to make some noise.
The Tuatara will be right back at it on Sunday in Palmerston North against the Jets, where the Jets will have to brace for a hungry Tuatara team.
SCORE: Airs 88, Tuatara 86
Airs: Hilliard 34 PTS, 9 REB, 8-of-13 3PT | Douglas 16 PTS, 16 REB, 8 AST
Tuatara: Loe 19, 9 REB | Russo Nance 19 PTS, 4 STL | Fahrensohn 20 PTS | Johnson 10 PTS, 13 REB
Full box score HERE.
Stuff MVP Votes
Anthony Hilliard (Airs) - 9 votes
Javonte Douglas (Airs) - 6 votes
Rob Loe (Tuatara) - 6 votes
Dontae Russo-Nance (Tuatara) - 3 votes
Taki Fahrensohn (Tuatara) - 3 votes
Tai Wynyard (Airs) - 2 votes
Chris Johnson (Tuatara) - 1 vote
Airs – June 18 @ Hawke's Bay Hawks
Tuatara – June 12 @ Manawatu Jets
Round 7 Sal's NBL Schedule