The Wellington Saints have made a big statement with a dominant win over the Southland Sharks.
The defending National Basketball League (NBL) champions led by double figures for most of the 111-93 win at TSB Bank Arena in Wellington on Thursday night against a team which many regard as the second best in the competition.
The Saints were led, as always, by the almost undefendable Corey Webster. He scored 29 points on 12-18 shooting.
There was support inside from Tai Wesley - who contributed heavily to the Saints' 44 points in the paint with his 23 points - as well as Josh Duinker (14 points, nine rebounds) Jordan Ngatai (13 points) and Shea Ili (13 points, nine rebounds, eight assists).
Southland's Reuben Te Rangi (25 points, five rebounds, five assists) and Mitch Norton (16 points) did their best to keep their side in the game, but it was always an uphill battle.
The game was over as a contest in the first quarter after the Saints went on a 17-0 run, making the score 36-16.
Even on a bad night, you wouldn't expect the undefeated Saints to give up a lead that big.
The run was as much about Southland's inaccuracy as the effectiveness of the Saints shooters, who shot 77 per cent from the field in the quarter compared to Southland's 37 per cent.
The Saints don't need a lot of help to score, but Southland did their best to aid them, throwing away five turnovers in the quarter, including three during the big run through the middle stages.
Southland's task didn't get any easier early in the second quarter when their Australian imports, Mitch Norton and Nick Kay, both picked up their third fouls, forcing Sharks coach Judd Flavell to sit them for most of the quarter.
The Saints couldn't maintain their hot start, but did enough to lead by 17 at halftime.
The Sharks showed good fight to start the third quarter.
An 8-0 run through the middle stages had them back to within 11, before back-to-back Duane Bailey threes saw the lead under double figures.
But Webster answered that with a three of his own and a fast-break layup off a steal to half the Sharks' momentum and restore the lead to 13.
Up 16 at the end of the third, the Saints did well to keep their intensity up through the opening stages of the fourth quarter before the game meandered to its inevitable conclusion.
The Saints record now sits at 7-0, while the Sharks are 3-3.
Wellington Saints 111 (Corey Webster 29 points, Tai Wesley 23, Josh Duinker 14) Southland Sharks 93 (Reuben Te Rangi 25, Mitch Norton 16, Duane Bailey 13). 1Q: 36-18; HT: 53-36; 3Q: 81-65
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