The Taranaki Steelformers Airs Sal’s National Basketball (NBL) winning streak came to an end at five after an upset 81-74 defeat at the hands of the Southland Sharks at ILT Stadium Southland, Invercargill, on Friday night.
The high flying Airs led the lowly Sharks by as many as 17 points at one stage and were still 40-28 ahead at half-time.
However, after a listless first half display the Sharks found their bite in the second spell outscoring the Airs 53-34 to pull off a terrific come from behind victory.
Daishon Knight (21 points), Alonzo Burton (17 points) and Brayden Inger (12 points) all scored in double figures in the second half for the rejuvenated Sharks.
Sharks centre Romaro Gill scored 9 points but his 18 rebounds and 5 blocks were a major reason for the contest being transformed after the interval.
Anthony Hilliard led the Airs with 23 points, Javonte Douglas had a huge double-double of 19 points and 17 rebounds and there were other double figure efforts from Marcel Jones (11 points) and Shaun Willett (10 points) but it was a disappointing shooting night for the talented quartet that made a combined 25 from 69 (36%) from the field.
Five points from Scott Telfer late in the opening quarter enabled the Airs to take a 19-13 lead into the first break.
Hilliard opened his account with the first points of the second and when he found Willett for an alley-oop dunk the lead was 29-17.
Encouraged by the home support the Sharks responded with baskets from Knight and Gill before Hilliard made a brace of triples to quieten the Sharks locals.
Mojave King scored from an Andrew Wheeler assist but the Sharks, looking to play spoiler, were 40-28 in arrears at half-time.
Inger nailed back to back threes from opposite corners as the Sharks opened the second half with a 13-2 burst to pull within a single point. With a Gill two-handed flush the run was extended by two and the Sharks had recovered from a 17 points deficit to take the lead.
However 8 points from Douglas meant the Airs held a 59-56 three-quarter time lead.
Alonzo Burton lit up the early part of the fourth with a brace of triples – Hilliard answered from beyond the arc himself – the Airs behind 70-69 at the mid-point of the final period.
Hilliard tied the contest after a Knight layup before a Willett put back with 2:41 to play gave Taranaki a 74-72 advantage.
Knight and Inger made crucial scored before an inspired Burton made his fifth triple of the game with 25 seconds to play and the hosts were 79-74 ahead.
An Airs turnover and a pair of Knight free-throws made it successive wins against a top-three team for the orange army to celebrate.
Both teams were missing New Zealand 3X3 Tall Blacks with Sharks forward Dom Kelman-Poto absent along with the Airs duo of Richie Rodger and Tai Wynyard – all Birmingham bound for the Commonwealth Games.
Next up for both teams is a trip to Dunedin to take on Otago Nuggets (8-7). The Airs will need to move on quickly ahead of the second instalment of their Southern Swing on Sunday while the Sharks will look forward to the local derby fixture on Wednesday.
SCORE: Sharks 81, Airs 74
Sharks: Knight 21 PTS | Burton 17 PTS (5/8 3PG) | Inger 12 PTS & 11 REBS | Gill 9 PTS, 17 REBS & 4 BLOCKS
Airs: Hilliard 23 PTS |Douglas 19 PTS & 17 REBS | Jones 11 PTS | Willett 10 PTS & 12 REBS
Stuff MVP Votes
Javonte Douglas (Airs) - 7 votes
Daishon Knight (Sharks) - 6 votes
Romaro Gill (Sharks) - 5 votes
Alonzo Burton (Sharks) - 4 votes
Brayden Inger (Sharks) - 4 votes
Anthony Hilliard (Airs) - 2 votes
Shaun Willett (Airs) - 2 votes
Sharks - July 27 @ Otago Nuggets
Airs – July 24 @ Otago Nuggets