A third quarter offensive explosion has helped the Wellington Saints see off the Southland Sharks.
The 109-94 win at TSB Bank Arena pushed the Saints' record to 13-0 in what was their biggest challenge on home court this season.
The Saints appeared vulnerable without forward Tai Wesley, but the irrepressible Corey Webster had too much class for the Sharks, aided well by fellow guard Shea Ili.
Webster had big first and third quarters, scoring 13 and 14 in each respectively, as he notched up a game-high 37 points on 16-32 shooting, with 10 assists.
It was that third quarter dominance from the shooting guard which won the game for the Saints. They were up 55-54 at halftime, but his points, in combination with the Sharks shooters going cold, meant they were up by 20 going into the final quarter.
Saints coach Kevin Braswell said it was something to behold watching Webster in full flight.
"They [Sharks] don't have a Corey Webster who can get you out of a game. In the third quarter, offensively, that's all it was for us. It was Corey, he just put on a show, it was good to watch."
Ili overcame a quiet start to have 30 (10-16 shooting) and seven rebounds, while Leon Henry proved a good match for the Sharks' bigs on the board, collecting 10 rebounds.
Southland were well in the game in the first half, leading by as many as 13.
They were led well by Luke Aston (22 points), Reuben Te Rangi (22 points, seven rebounds) and Nick Kay (24 points, eight rebounds), but their terrible third quarter, when they shot 5-19 as a team, cost them the game.
Braswell said their third-quarter defensive effort was down to getting back to what they had worked on during the week.
"Last week at halftime when we were up four against Taranaki I cursed them out. This week I was as calm as can be. I told them all they needed to do was buy into the principles we had laid down.
"All they did was come out and give effort. Just a little bit more effort and attention to detail."
The first quarter was dogfight down low. Forty-nine of the 57 points in the quarter would be scored either in the paint or at the free-throw line as the Sharks led 31-26.
The Sharks changed their approach as the second quarter began, with Duane Bailey hitting a pair of threes and Aston nailing one of his own as the lead extended to 13.
But with a bit more effort on defence and a more aggressive approach at the other end the Saints went on a 16-5 run to find themselves down just two late in the quarter. Jordan Ngatai then hit a wide open three to give the Saints their first lead since the opening two minutes, which they maintained until halftime.
A lot of the good work at the offensive end during that run was done by Ili, who scored nine points through taking on defenders and attacking the rim.
The Saints started the third quarter hot with Henry quadrupling his points with a big three, before Webster took over and the Saints won the quarter 32-13.
The Sharks fought through the final quarter, getting to within nine points of the Saints, but it wasn't quite enough.
The Saints finish their season with five-straight road games, starting with the Taranaki Mountain Airs on Sunday, but it would be a brave man to bet against them going undefeated in the regular season after completing the season sweep of the Sharks in this game.
The Sharks slip to 9-4 ahead of Saturday's match against the Supercity Rangers in Te Awamutu.
Wellington Saints 109 (Corey Webster 37 points, Shea Ili 30) Southland Sharks 94 (Nick Kay 24, Luke Aston 22, Reuben Te Rangi 22). 1Q: 26-31; HT: 55-54; 3Q: 87-67
Article and image courtesy of Stuff.co.nz