Advantage Wellington Saints - just.
The Southland Sharks and Wellington Saints have largely been tipped as the two leading contenders in the 2017 National Basketball League (NBL) and it is the Saints who have taken the early season honours.
They claimed a thrilling 88-86 round two win at ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill on Friday night.
The two teams squared off last year in one of the all-time great NBL fixtures when the Saints ousted the Sharks narrowly in the playoffs.
Fast forward to 2017 and it was again the Saints in the winners circle; although those in the Sharks camp wouldn't have walked away all that dejected.
Key Sharks big man Alex Pledger wasn't suited up, instead watching from the bench because of a concussion stand down following a stray elbow to the head in training.
The Sharks started best through a red hot Reuben Te Rangi who has found his groove through the first two weeks of the season.
Te Rangi put up nine points to push Southland out to a 16-9 lead in the first quarter before Wellington went on a 12 point run to got up 21-16 at the end of the first period.
Sharks captain Duane Bailey hit a three-pointer early in the second quarter before Derone Raukawa levelled it at 21 apiece.
It was yet again Te Rangi who sent Southland on a run with six points in a short space of time as his team went out to a 43-35 lead at one stage.
Through Leon Henry and Corey Webster the Saints scoreboard kept ticking over and by halftime Southland led by just four at 46-42.
The Saints grabbed a 65-64 lead with two minutes to play in the third quarter as the lead bounced back and forth. By the end of the quarter, the scores were locked up at 69-69, setting up a thrilling final quarter.
It was the Saints who took charge pushing out to an eight point lead, but as had been the case all night, any break didn't last long.
With 55 seconds to play the scores were yet again locked up, this time at 86-86.
Henry put up a long shot for the Saints but hit the rim and the Sharks gathered the rebound.
Then Henry got a second crack soon after when the Sharks fouled and he was handed two free throws.
He missed both but the Sharks turned the ball over and a quick pass down court to Henry, who was still shaking his head from the free throw troubles, ensured this time he made the basket.
The Sharks had 1.5sec to manufacture something but missed the rushed shot meaning Wellington claimed the 88-86 win.
Wellington Saints 88 (Corey Webster 22, Leon Henry 21, Tai Wesley 18, Josh Duinker 14, Shea Ili 13) Southland Sharks 86 (Reuben Te Rangi 27, Nick Kay 16, Mitch Norton 16, Luke Aston 11). 1Q: 21-16, HT: 42-46, 3Q: 69-69
Image and article courtesy of The Southland Times