The long wait is over – the Manawatu Jets are into the playoffs of the National Basketball League.
The Wellington Saints' 107-99 win over the Taranaki Mountain Airs in the capital last night ensured the Jets of a spot in the post-season for the first time since 2003.
The Jets can now head into tomorrow afternoon's game against the Mountain Airs in New Plymouth with the pressure eased, knowing they are no longer desperate for a win to keep their season alive.
Manawatu beat Taranaki in Palmerston North 104-93 in April.
The Jets could finish anywhere between fourth and sixth in the playoff picture, depending on their final two results and the fortunes of the Nelson Giants and Southland Sharks.
While the Jets made it, the Mountain Airs gave the Saints a scare last night.
The Saints secured the minor premiership, but the defending champions did it the hard way after trailing the lowly ranked visitors until late in the closing quarter.
For much of the contest Wellington played second fiddle to Taranaki's potent imports Jack Leasure and 2.14m centre Marcus Campbell, who dominated to give their team the lead at every break except for the last one. Wellington, already assured of a home semifinal, finally nosed in front with less than three minutes remaining and held their nerve as Taranaki flung everything at them.
Defeat means the quarterfinals are now out of reach for Taranaki, who were more than game against their higher rated opponents last night.
Wellington's multiple threats ultimately decided the outcome, with four players in double figures, led by point guard Lindsay Tait, who contributed a game-high 27 points, followed by Corey Webster with 23, Casey Frank 18 and Kareem Johnson 16.
Johnson also pulled down 11 rebounds, the one area where Wellington held the upperhand throughout before edging Taranaki 43-32 in that area.
Leasure, the league-leading scorer and fresh from posting a game-high 31 against Auckland on Wednesday night, sunk 15 of his 26 points in the first half as Taranaki forged a 55-49 advantage.
Campbell, too, threw his imposing frame around to end with 21 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out in the last stanza, an early finish shared by team-mate Link Abrams.
Wellington 107 (Lindsay Tait 27, Corey Webster 23, Casey Frank 18, Kareem Johnson 16) Taranaki 99 (Jack Leasure 26, Marcus Campbell 21, Zane Meehl 16). Halftime: 49-55.
- Manawatu Standard
Will Aaron Cruden's omission hurt or help the All Blacks?Related story: Senior All Blacks 'pretty disappointed' in Cruden