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Sharks back on track with win over Saints

The Wellington Saints are fast turning into the Southland Sharks' bogey team.

Southland handed the two-time defending National Basketball League champions just their second loss in the last two years on Friday night in Invercargill, winning 98-86.

The Sharks overcame a strong third quarter fight back from the Saints to end their 10-game winning run, having last lost to Southland in the opening round of the season on April 27.

It was a statement victory from the Sharks, who improve to 8-3, following a sub-par home loss to the Canterbury Rams last Friday.

In a rematch of last year's final, Southland did the damage in the first half, building a 58-38 halftime lead against a Saints' side, who looked uncharacteristically out of sorts.

Wellington surged back into the contest in the third term with a 25-11 start to the quarter to cut the Sharks' lead to 69-63. Southland pulled away in the final moments of the third with Luke Aston knocking down a big three to put the Sharks back out by 11 (80-69).

Kevin Braswell's short-handed Saints refused to go away in the final quarter, but Southland were able to handle several mini runs to emerge triumphant.

The Saints, missing US guard LJ Peak, were sluggish to start the contest. Leading Kiwi point guard Shea Ili stepped off the plane on Thursday to feature for the Saints after jetting to Texas this week to attend a two-day NBA mini camp with the Dallas Mavericks.

Southland received a balanced scoring attack with Australian point guard Jarrad Weeks (22 points) and Reuben Te Rangi (19 points on 11 shots) both leading the way on attack. Centre Alex Pledger, returning from an ankle injury, was a force in the paint with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Ili fought valiantly for the Saints with 26 points and seven assists after his hectic week, while big man Majok Majok poured in 17 points, to go along with 16 boards.

The Saints weren't helped with zero points off the bench, compared to Southland's 21.

Boosted by the addition of Pledger, Southland made a lightning start.

Pledger threw down an emphatic dunk to open the scoring and had seven points in the first quarter.

Southland raced out to an early 14-6 lead on 6/8 shooting from the field.

Wellington struggled to get anything going early, only making two of their first seven field goals.

Southland were out to 29-20 by the end of the first quarter, shooting 52 per cent from the floor and limiting the usually potent Saints to just 8/24 (33 per cent).

The Sharks picked up where they left off to start the second term, making an emphatic 18-4 start to the quarter to build a whopping 47-24 advantage inside the opening five minutes.

By halftime, Southland had established a 58-38 buffer, shooting 24/44 (54 per cent) from the floor, and outmuscling the Saints 29-20 in the battle of the boards.

Wellington landed just 14/45 (31 per cent) of their attempts in the first half and had just four players feature on the scoresheet.

The Saints' loss drops them to 10-2, tied for first place on the NBL ladder with the Nelson Giants.

Southland Sharks 98 (Jarrad Weeks 22, Reuben Te Rangi 19, Alex Pledger 16, Orlando Coleman 14) Wellington Saints 86 (Shea Ili 26, Leon Henry 22, Jordan Ngatai 19, Majok Majok 17) 1Q: 29-20, HT: 58-38, 3Q: 80-69

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