Saints shrug off Jets in tight contest

The Cigna Wellington Saints have stretched their 2019 Sal's NBL win streak to six with tonight's 106-104 win over the Manawatu Jets.

The second consecutive game being played in Whanganui saw the hosts win the early arm wrestle and give themselves the early lead. Kuran Iverson scored in a variety of different ways to see him finish the period with 13 and Daishon Knight continued to show off his ability to shoot over larger defenders by knocking down a pair of tough jumpers. Shea Ili knocked down a pair of ones with less than 15 seconds on the clock and that would see the Jets only ahead 32-31 at the first break. 

Rob Loe scored the first points in the second quarter, but it was the old head, Leon Henry, who sparked a 9-3 Saints run by converting on two treys from atop the arc. The Jets replied through a triple of their own from ex-Saint Jackson Stubbins, but the visitors would continue to put the ball in the basket to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Knight and Iverson matched anything Ili and co did and finished the second with a game-leading 23 points. The latter's last-ditch trey clanged off the rim and that meant the Saints led going into the half at 58-57. 

Neither team was able to take control of the contest early in the second half, with both teams missing and scoring at roughly the same rate. Ngatai scored a lay-up and three on consecutive possessions to push the game out beyond one shot, but the Jets stormed back late and snatch back a narrow 76-75 advantage going into the fourth. 

The Saints did well to get the ball out of Knight's and Iverson's hands but would need to do this for another 10 minutes if they were to leave triumphant. 

Reuben Te Rangi got his team off to a hot start to start the fourth, scoring inside, outside and from the line. Fan favourite Wally Ellenson took it upon himself to make sure his side stayed in the fight, nailing his own triple and setting up Knight for an easy two. However, his efforts only lasted so long as the Saints would hold the home team out for just over two minutes and extend their buffer to 10 with just under four minutes to play.

The Jets were down but not out and need someone to spring some life into their offence. That someone would end up being both Ellenson and Knight, with the pair splashing home back to back treys to get their team to within two in the last 60 seconds.

Te Rangi went to the line but would only hit one of the two, which then saw Ellenson race in for a hastily shot inside to cut it to one. Sunday Dech was fouled on the ensuing play and he too only converted at a 50% clip, gifting the Jets a chance to win or at least tie the game before time expired. 

The play would be drawn up for Iverson, who missed his lay-up attempt but fortunately had it fall to teammates Knight. He jacked up his own shot from outside and to the dismay of the crowd saw it clang off the rim. The buzzer sounded and the Wellingtonians let out a sigh of relief as they knew they were lucky to walk away 106-104 victors.

It was the Saints experience in tight fixtures that prevailed in the end and it was a collective effort from both the starting five and impact players Henry and Dech.

Jets' coach Tim McTamney would be proud of the way his squad played their hearts out tonight, but will also be left thinking "if only" on that last possession. 

Sal's MVP honours went to Te Rangi with his team-leading 26 points, but just as deserving was Ili with 20, six and five. Nick Kay fell one rebound shy of a double-double with 15 points and Ngatai finished with 15 and six. Loe was the only starter to score in single-digits but made up for his lack of buckets by cleaning the boards for 12 big ones.

Knight and Iverson both had 30-pieces to their name at the end of the game, with the latter's box score being one of the most impressive this season. He had 31 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and six steals, all while shooting 60% from the field. Ellenson contributed to the scoreline with 27, but the rest of the Jets' roster only managed 12 points. 




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