ONLY two teams would remain undefeated in the NZNBL (New Zealand National Basketball League) following Saturday night, after the Canterbury Rams would pull away from the Taranaki Mountainairs in the final period off the back of Taylor Britt and Samuel Smith.
Good shooting and ball movement would also prove to be deciding factors in helping the Rams to build their season record to a league-leading 3-0 start, sitting next to the Otago Nuggets as the only other team yet to be handed a defeat in this season’s fixture.
CANTERBURY RAMS 31 | 25 | 25 | 31 (112)
TARANAKI AIRS 35 | 21 | 17 | 28 (101)
A completely different situation to the previous match on the day, the Canterbury Rams and the Taranaki Mountainairs knew that following their clash, one of the teams would receive their first loss of the season, with the winner to take pole position in the NZNBL standings.
After coming to this realisation, it was Canterbury’s Sam Smith and Taranaki’s Tai Wynyard that got things going for their respective teams trading buckets straight away, but, it was Shane Temara’s two-hand jam that got people on their feet shortly after. The dunk would precede what would turn out to be a high-octane action packed first quarter, as both teams would combine for 66 points to open up the contest.
Despite Taranaki leading by just two possessions heading into the second of four quarters, the Rams had plenty of reasons to be hopeful, with one of them being a certain New Zealand Tall Black in Taylor Britt. Britt who found his rhythm early, would settle for a modest 13 points by quarter time and carry that over into the second half.
Beginning the second quarter, Britt would make the first half his own, earning himself an and-one and capping off a 6-0 start for Canterbury, opening up the second period, thereby flipping the script and gifting the Rams a two-point lead within a minute of play. The Perth Wildcats development player would finish with 22 points through 20 minutes of game time by the main break, as both sides were deadlocked at 56-56 at half-time.
While Derone Raukawa was maintaining the fact that he could provide on the scoreboard for the Airs, it would take a whole half for Marcel Jones to get going. However, he would make his presence known at the start of the second half with an impressive jump hook and fadeaway against a tough Rams defence three minutes after the main break.
Starting with six minutes remaining in the championship quarter, two made free-throws from Rams center Thomas Webley would kick off an 8-0 run thanks to three consecutive layups by Webley once again, Mason Whittaker and Tom Cowie, extending their lead to 74-64. In the plays to follow, both teams would trade baskets until Kenneth Tuffin had the final word of the third period with a nice finish around the hoop, cutting the Airs deficit to eight points.
Neutralising Taranaki’s motivations early on with a mid-range jump-shot from Britt to open fourth quarter proceedings, the Rams would keep the Airs at arm’s length for the remainder of the matchup. Taranaki would get within four points on three separate occasions, but it was Smith once again that would polish off the Airs with four minutes remaining, sparking a 10-point scoring run to put his side up by 14, eventuating in a 112-101 triumph for the Rams, as they extend their undefeated season to three games, while Taranaki was defeated for the first time this year.
While both sides would shoot at a relatively good percentage, the Rams outshined the Airs in the three-pointer categories, out-shooting them seven three-pointers to four. But, one of the takeaways Canterbury took to heart heading into their next matchup, was their carelessness taking care of the ball, allowing 12 turnovers, which in turn was the cause of 22 Taranaki points.
It was no surprise that Britt would take man of the match honours following a 30-point performance in little over 31 minutes of game time, but he would also fall one assist shy of a triple double having secured 10 rebounds too. Alongside Britt, Smith would pour it on in yesterday night’s outcome, logging 23 points, four rebounds and three assists, meanwhile Webley and Whittaker would each tack on 12 points apiece.
Looking at Taranaki’s stars of the night, Raukawa continued his good run of form with 25 points on 10 of 17 shooting from the field (58 per cent), whereas a slow first half from Marcel Jones would not stop him from finishing off strong, hustling himself to a 19-point and 14-rebound performance. Furthermore, 14 points and six rebounds summed up a respectable game for Tuffin.
For the Mountainairs, they will have to wait until Tuesday to make amends and get back into the winner’s column, as they are set to take on a winless Huskies outfit. Meanwhile, the Rams can sit idle and rest until Wednesday, where they are scheduled to size up a Manawatu Jets team that is in good form, hot off the stove following their convincing win against Auckland, in what will be a battle of two of the most highly touted teams in the competition.