The Wellington Saints have defeated the Auckland Tuatara 98-80 at Eventfinda Stadium on Saturday night, giving them their fifth straight win and moving them to 10-8.
The Saints had their foot on the gas pedal from tip-off, laying a 12-2 run on the Tuatara behind Tom Vodanovich and Jordan Ngatai. The Tuatara stumbled out the gate with just 1-of-10 shots falling over the first few minutes of the quarter.
Wellington held a handy 21-8 lead after the first quarter and it was their hot shooting from deep that was doing the most damage (6-10 3PT). Their perimeter shooting helped masked five early turnorvers, but the Tuatara weren't doing a great job of ball security either with seven to their name. Auckland shot a miserable 3-of-15 from the floor in the quarter.
American import Mike Smith came off the bench again for the Saints and dropped six points to help the early scoring run for the defending champions.
The Tuatara got it going in the second quarter outscoring the Saints 30-25. Tall Blacks legend Kirk Penney suited up for the Tuatara tonight and had nine points off the bench in the first half. He was joined by Chris Johnson, who got back into the country a matter of days ago following his stint in the Big 3 in the United States. Johnson scored eight in the half.
Thanks to a dominant first quarter the Saints still had the advantage at the break leading 46-38. Reggie Upshaw Jr. and Tom Vodanovich each had 11 points for Wellington. As a team the Saints shot 15-of-39 from the field but it was their 12-of-22 clip from beyond the arc that was keeping them in front. The Tuatara were 15-of-35 from the floor in the first half.
The third quarter was a tight tussle with just one point separating the teams. Upshaw Jr. was up to 17 points for the Saints and Xavier Cooks had 15, but the big blow for the Saints was the loss of Tom Vodanovich to an ejection midway through the third quarter. Vodanovich picked up two technical fouls and as a result was tossed from the game.
Despite Vodanovich's absence and the brilliance of Chris Johnson, who was up to 20 points, the Saints held a 73-64 lead with one quarter of action to play.
The poor first quarter had the Tuatara on the back foot all game. They matched the Saints fairly well over the final three quarters of the contest, and will know that with a better executed start to the game they could have been right in it.
The Saints did what they they needed to do in the fourth to get the job done. They are sizzling heading into the Final 6 next week and are possibly the favourites to snag the title this season. Wellington shot 18-of-38 from three in what was another impressive shooting performance. They had four players hit at least three 3-pointers in the game, showcasing their firepower on the perimeter yet again.
Reggie Upshaw Jr. finished with a team-high 22 points, and Xavier Cooks did it all with 19 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Cooks is right in the mix for the MVP award this season with some stellar all around play, and he's been influential in their late season turnaround. Mike Smith had 17 with four 3-pointers off the bench and Jordan Ngatai had 17 as well.
Chris Johnson had a massive game for the Tuatara with 24 points and 15 rebounds in his first game back but it was a dull night for the home side. They'll be ready to go come next week and should not be overlooked as title contenders.
SCORE: Tuatara 80, Saints 98
Tuatara: Johnson 24 PTS, 15 REB | Penney 12 PTS | Schneider 16 PTS, 7 AST | Loe 14 PTS, 9 REB
Saints: Upshaw Jr. 22 PTS | Cooks 19 PTS, 13 REB, 5 AST | Smith 17 PTS, 4-5 3PT | Ngatai 17 PTS
Full box score HERE.
Stuff MVP Votes
Xavier Cooks (Saints) - 10 votes
Chris Johnson (Tuatara) - 8 votes
Rob Loe (Tuatara) - 4 votes
Mike Smith (Saints) - 4 votes
Reggie Upshaw Jr. (Saints) - 3 votes
Siler Schneider (Tuatara) - 1 vote
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