Airs tame Bulls, climb to second win in three-point shooting extravaganza

TARANAKI Mountainairs withstood a number of gallant charges by Franklin Bulls last night to earn a second consecutive win in Week One of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. The Bulls were in their inaugural game and raced out of the blocks early, but the consistency of the Airs throughout the match – including when Franklin hit back hard early in the fourth term – saw Taranaki claim the victory and remain unbeaten thanks to a 107-95 victory.

FRANKLIN BULLS 31 | 21 | 18 | 25 (95)
TARANAKI AIRS 25 | 30 | 27 | 25 (107)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Coming in for their first ever match, no one knew exactly what to expect from the Bulls. After Taranaki’s strong performance the night before, many expected the Airs to burst out of the blocks as Franklin would work its way into the match. Instead, it was quite the opposite. Dom Kelman-Poto scored the first ever point for his side with his second three throw after a foul, and then something no one would have predicted. Three consecutive triples – two from Isaac Davidson and one from Everard Bartlett – saw the Bulls race to a 10-0 lead courtesy of a few misses from the Airs.

The Airs worked their way back into the quarter, but the Bulls long range shooting was clearly going to be a problem as Bartlett sank another triple, and despite Marcel Jones and Shane Temara teaming up to steady the ship, it was Kelman-Poto’s turn to strike the dagger from long rage. In less than four minutes of action, Franklin had drained five triples and led 16-6. The match was seemingly starting to slip away from the Airs when Davidson hit back-to-back triples – making it four in a quarter – and the lead was out to 15. Tarananki worked its way back in after a few Franklin misses to cut the deficit as little as five, before Jackson Stubbins joined the part with a triple late. Luckily for the Airs, Tai Wynard made good on a two-point jump shot with three seconds remaining.

Returning to the court for the second quarter and a six-point deficit, the Airs needed to find something, and one positive was that Derone Raukawa (four points in quarter one) had not lit it up yet. Instead, Wynyard and Jones were working together to claw back the lead, as Sam Timmins scored his first points in Bulls colours early in the second quarter. The teams were trading blows until Davidson once again popped up to drain a fifth triple and Franklin had some breathing space with a seven-point lead.

On debut, Ken Tuffin scored his first points with a nice defensive rebound and move down the other end for a layup move. With the Bulls leading by eight points midway through the term, Raukawa stepped up with an important triple, and he, Jones and Tuffin went on a scoring spree. The latter drilled a three-pointer to hand Taranaki its first lead of the game thus far with just over four minutes remaining.

When Wynyard sank a turn around jumper a couple of minutes later, the crowd could hardly believe the side that was eight down, was not seven up in a 15-0 scoring run themselves. The Bulls managed to claw their way back, then the term fittingly ended with the teams trading triples, Francis Mulvihill for the Airs and eight seconds later, Bartlett for the Bulls. When it was all said and done, three points separated the sides in favour of the Airs.

Jones’ hot hand continued early in the third with five of the first six points to pick up the Airs’ form where they left off. The Bulls would not be done with yet, as Kelman-Poto and Nicholas Barrow drew the new team within a couple of points, but again it was the team work of Raukawa and Jones who went to work, seven consecutive points. The Bulls were not able to properly capitalise on their free throw shooting when getting the chance, with Barrow only scoring one of the two for the second time in the term, before Baxter Fenwick drained a three-pointer, and Raukawa drove the dragger in with another one of his own. When Tuffin joined the party with a long range bomb at the six-minute mark, the lead had blown out to 17.

Since the midway point of the second term, the Airs had scored 30-15 and were dominating on all fronts. Every challenge was answered by the team that has catapulted itself into genuine title contention. Whilst the Bulls finished the term on a high with a triple from Kelman-Poto – to cut the deficit to 12 – the Airs were firmly in control leading by 12 points, 82-70.

If anyone thought it would be over, then they were given something to seriously consider early in the fourth, as with the exception of a couple of Wynyard buckets for the Airs, the Bulls dug deep to turn it into a contest. Nikau McCullough decided he had not yet had enough of a say on the contest, so casually drilled three triples to start the quarter, as Bartlett joined him in that quest and Timmins managed to gain another couple of points. Within the first three minutes of the term, the Bulls were on parade and had bolted to a two-point deficit.

Jones decided enough was enough and reminded those at The Trusts Arena of his long-range prowess with back-to-back triples himself, the first six points of an 11-point stint. The Bulls could only score one point in that time and the Airs were well on their way to victory with a few minutes remaining and a 14-point lead again. Davidson tried to rally his side back into it with a couple of baskets, and whilst McCullough drilled another three – his fourth of the term – with seven seconds remaining, the Bulls would fall 12 points short as Taranaki headed to bench with a 107-95 victory.

Jones was the star of the show, putting up 29 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three steals, shooting at 57 per cent from the field and draining four of nine from long range. Raukawa worked his way into the contest after a quiet start to finished with a strong 18 points, and whilst his accuracy was lower than his first night’s contributions, he dished it off six times to teammates. Tuffin’s 10 points, four rebounds and two assists was strong, whilst Wynyard also reached double-figure points thanks to 11 to go with a couple of rebounds.

The ridiculous long-range shooting of the Bulls saw them put up a remarkable 40 attempts, sinking 18 of them, which was more than their points from inside the arc. Davidson was the key architect for the Bulls with 27 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals, as well as six triples from nine attempts. His partner-in-crime, Bartlett had four long-range baskets for 13 points, five assists, three steals and two rebounds. McCulloch drained five of seven from beyond the arc – four in the final term – for 17 points and two rebounds coming off the bench. Kelman-Poto (10 points, four rebounds) and Barrow (11 points, five rebounds) were the other strong contributors.

The Airs now have a couple of days to rest before a blockbuster Saturday night clash with Canterbury Rams, whilst the Bulls will take on the Rams tonight, before facing the Auckland Huskies on Sunday.

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