The Auckland Tuatara have stunned the defending champion Wellington Saints 92-87 at Eventfinda Stadium to advance to the semi-finals.
The Tuatara were the aggressors early and took control on both ends of the floor in the first quarter. They held a 25-17 lead after 10 minutes of action, powered by Tall Black Taki Fahrensohn with 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Auckland corralled five offensive rebounds in the quarter and they held the Saints to 0-of-4 from downtown.
The Saints have been lighting it up from beyond the arc in recent weeks and it's been a big reason for their success, and the Tuatara had clearly circled that as a point of emphasis coming into this one.
Auckland extended their lead in the second quarter, outscoring the Saints 25-21 to give them a 50-38 lead at the break. Fahrensohn was up to 15 points for the Tuatara and Rob Loe had 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 from three. The two teams almost matched each other in turnovers, with nine to the Tuatara and 10 for the Saints.
The Saints shot just 2-of-11 from outside in the half. Auckland was doing a superb job of limiting Wellington's perimeter looks and made an effort on every close out attempt. Sal's NBL MVP Xavier Cooks was doing his thing for the Saints despite the score with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
The Tuatara opened the third quarter on a 10-4 run and looked to have the Saints on the ropes, but the defending champions weren't done with a 7-3 burst to cut the deficit to 12. The Saints were pushing the pace on misses and makes, and turnovers were playing right into their hands too.
There was nothing to separate the two teams in the third quarter with it going 20 a piece, but the Saints rattled off a 10-2 run to start the fourth quarter and closed the gap to four points - the closest they had been since the first quarter.
It was bucket-for-bucket down the stretch in a tense fourth quarter at Eventfinda Stadium. The Saints had themselves a 79-78 lead with four minutes to play, but Chris Johnson injected himself into the game for the Tuatara with four straight points and a couple of big time plays to get the crowd into it and swing the momentum back their way.
The Saints had numerous chances to tie it up in the final minutes but they just couldn't get shots to fall, with the Tuatara doing a fine job on defence to make life as difficult as possible. Wellington claimed the quarter 29-22 but their comeback attempt fell just short - the Tuatara holding on for a big upset victory and eliminating the defending champs from the Final 6.
Rob Loe was fantastic for the Tuatara with 24 points and 10 rebounds and Taki Fahrensohn had 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists. As a team, Auckland shot just 8-of-32 from beyond the arc but they held the Saints to 8-of-27 from distance and that might just have been the key factor in this one. Wellington has been torching teams on the perimeter but the Tuatara just didn't let them get that opportunity tonight - credit to head coach Aaron Young for adjusting after his team's sizeable defeat to the Saints in Round 15.
The Tuatara now move on to play the No. 1 seed Airs tomorrow night (Thursday) in what should be a thriller. The other semi-final will see the Giants and Nuggets square off on Friday night.
SCORE: Saints 87, Tuatara 92
Saints: Cooks 26 PTS, 16 REB | Upshaw Jr. 20 PTS | Smith 14 PTS
Tuatara: Loe 24 PTS, 10 REB | Fahrensohn 24 PTS | Schneider 17 PTS, 10 REB, 7 AST | Johnson 17 PTS, 12 REB
Full box score HERE.
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