The SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks may have ended any hope the Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams had of making the Sal's NBL Final 4 with a gripping 92-81 win.
With a spot at the Final 4 the target for both the Rams (7-7) and the Sharks (10-4), another sold out Cowles Stadium crowd was treated to a game with a finals atmosphere, but they also left empty-handed after the visitors grabbed the chocolates.
Played at a high tempo, an even first half featured plenty of highlights, especially from EJ Singler and Alonzo Burton, who at one stage traded baskets as both teams tried to grab the ascendency.
Just one point separated the teams at the half with the Sharks facing the bigger concerns given premier big man Dom Kelman-Poto had committed three fouls.
The second half started at speed, the Rams nailing some early baskets before Courtney Belger and Josh Cunningham pushed the Sharks out to an 11-point advantage.
With Belger and Burton taking a break the door was left ajar for the Rams and they knocked it down with a blitzing run that saw them claw their way back into the game, and not long after take a 70-67 lead with just over seven minutes to play.
From that point on the Sharks went on a 25-11 run to win the game. Belger was sublime and constantly took control of the situation in a telling performance. Every time the Sharks needed to steady, Belger delivered.
The victory puts the Sharks within one win of locking down a Final 4 berth, while the Rams would need a lot of outside factors to fall their way to be any chance of progressing past round 12.
Canterbury Rams (81) lost to Southland Sharks (92) - BOXSCORE
Rams: EJ Singler (26pts, 14rbs), Deshon Taylor (20pts), Jack Salt (16pts, 14rbs)
Sharks: Courtney Belger (23pts), Josh Cunningham (22pts), Alonzo Burton (19pts)
Courtney Belger may have tweaked his ankle last week, but it wasn't showing tonight. Belger's ability to keep his team settled under pressure came to the fore time and time again in a MVP performance.
Jack Salt put up big numbers in this one and was probably a little unlucky not to add a few more points along the way. His double-double came in under 24 minutes, emphasising the stamp he put on this game.
Despite battling foul trouble, Josh Cunningham's second half was heroic. When asked to step up he did exactly that, coming up with some massive baskets and critical times, and often against big bodies.
Stuff MVP Votes
Courtney Belger (Sharks) 9
Alonzo Burton (Sharks) 9
EJ SIngler (Rams) 5
Josh Cunningham (Sharks) 4
Jack Salt (Rams) 3
Image by Photosport NZ