The Cigna Wellington Saints are off to yet another Sal's NBL Grand Final after edging out a persistent SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks side 95-89 in the first Final 4 semi-final.
Todd Blanchfield scored first for the Sharks and was a key figure for his side early on in the piece. Key figure Jarrad Weeks was the only starter in orange not to score in the first quarter, as he was benched early after getting into foul trouble.
The Saints shot the ball poorly from deep in the opening period, with only Reuben Te Rangi able to put it in the basket. He went 3/4 from beyond the arc and kept his side afloat after an energetic start from their opposites. The two teams were level at 22 a piece going into the second.
Inserting Sunday Dech and Leon Henry into the game paid dividends, with both substitutes getting on the board not long after hitting the hardwood. They along with Nick Kay and Tom Abercrombie found an offensive groove before the half, working in unison to keep their team in the driver's seat.
Scoring was big in the second quarter and the Sharks certainly didn't go without. Skipper Alex Pledger and Tom Vodanovich were their sides, main contributors, with the latter pulling off a pair of threes to draw the Sharks within one.
Three trips to the line brought the half to a close, with Shea Ili, Dech and Kay all managing to sink one of their two freebies. The Saints went into the break up 52-45, thanks in large part to the 11 points from Kay.
In typical Saints fashion, the Wellingtonians laid the pressure on early and saw their lead blossom to as much as 13 in the third. Rob Loe and Kay got the ball rolling, but it was stud guard Shea Ili who took the game by the scruff of the neck and scored just over a third of his team's points in the quarter.
Several different Sharks made shots at the tail end on the third to bring their team back within six. Most notably, Tom Vodanovich, who had 23 points going into the fourth.
An 8-0 run for the men in orange flipped the game on its head and brought the Sharks faithful to life. The Saints answered with a pair of threes to Ili and Loe, the latter also added a few kind words to a group of hecklers courtside.
The game came to a halt with just over four minutes to go, with shot-clock and scoreboard operators requiring technical assistance. The six-minute break meant both sides would need to find their rhythm quickly to fall on the desired side of the box score.
Jarrad Weeks, Hyrum Harris and Pledger all scored when play resumed, but Man of the Match Ili found a way negated any Sharks make by himself. The game was iced on a pair of free throws and the Saints moved on to tomorrow's Grand Final.
Wellington Saints 95 defeated Southland Sharks 89
Saints - Shea Ili 32pts & 5ast, Nick Kay 15pts, 12rbs & 5ast, Tom Abercrombie 12pts & 8rbs.
Sharks - Tom Vodanovich 23pts & 7rbs, Alex Pledger 16pts & 8rbs, Roberto Nelson 14pts, 5rbs & 9ast.
Stats That Matter - Turnovers are costly in any circumstance, but they're dire in knockout games. The Sharks turned the ball over 13 times, compared to the Saints six. Both teams shot just below 50% from the field and similarly from three, so the seven extra errors from the Sharks certainly helped book an early exit.