The Wellington Saints have continued their climb towards the Final 6 with a 107-80 win over the Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks in Taradale on Thursday evening.
Import Reggie Upshaw Jr. started strong for the Saints, scoring eight of the team's first 10 points to open the first quarter. However, the Saints as a team shot just 8-of-23 from the field and were a step behind the Hawks early. Hawke's Bay had a 27-20 lead after the first quarter, lead by Hyrum Harris, who showed off his improved touch from outside with a pair of 3-pointers.
The second quarter was a back-and-forth tussle for the majority, until the Saints put their foot on the throttle and rattled off a 12-0 run to close the half and take a 45-41 lead. Play opened up over the final few minutes of the second quarter and it played right into the hands of the Saints.
After 21 turnovers in their meeting a week ago the Hawks had just five in the first half tonight, but they weren't stringing enough buckets together to stay ahead of a Saints team primed for big scoring runs.
American Reggie Upshaw Jr. had worked his way up to 17 points through one half of work to lead the Saints, while the Hawks were getting balanced scoring contributions from key players - Derone Raukawa, Hyrum Harris and Tajuan Agee all totaled double figures in the first half.
The Hawks matched the Saints to begin the third but again allowed a big scoring run from the road team. The Saints erupted for a 22-3 run to take control of the game through a barrage of 3-pointers. Wellington could smell blood in the water and were feeling it from downtown, playing hard and creating open opportunities on the perimeter.
We've witnessed the firepower the Saints have in both of their recent games against the Hawks and it will certainly have teams in the Final 6 picture feeling a little uneasy. The talent they have is undeniable, and it's simply been a case of putting that all together and that's exactly what the Saints have done in recent weeks. They outscored the Hawks 36-17 in the third quarter.
The damage was dealt in the third, as the deficit was too great to overcome for the Hawks. They drop to 8-8 on the season and are still in the Final 6 picture, but there really isn't any margin for error now. They'll be waiting for the return of Tall Black Jordan Hunt, but more importantly have two games remaining at home and they'll need to claim both to guarantee a spot in the finals.
The Saints stay hot and are now right in the Final 6 mix with the Jets up next on Saturday. Upshaw Jr. has shown he's been a valuable late-season addition with 26 points and 11 boards in the game. Australian Xavier Cooks again flirted with a triple-double for Wellington, dropping 18 points, 16 rebounds and six assists.
SCORE: Hawks 80, Saints 107
Hawks: Harris 24 PTS, 8-14 FG | Raukawa 21 PTS | Agee 14 PTS
Saints: Upshaw Jr. 26 PTS, 11 REB, 3 BLK, 4 3PM | Cooks 18 PTS, 16 REB, 6 AST, 2 BLK | Vodanovich 22 PTS | Samuel 18 PTS, 4-6 3PT
Full box score HERE.
Stuff MVP Votes
Reggie Upshaw Jr. (Saints) - 10 votes
Tom Vodanovich (Saints) - 6 votes
Hyrum Harris (Hawks) - 6 votes
Xavier Cooks (Saints) - 5 votes
Derone Raukawa (Hawks) - 3 votes
Hawks - July 31 @ Manawatu Jets
Saints – July 23 @ Manawatu Jets
Round 13 Sal's NBL Schedule