Shane Heal's playing career was full of excitement and the new Wellington Saints coach started his tenure in the same fashion, beating the Bay Hawks 93-91 in an NBL overtime thriller.
Australian great Heal only arrived in Wellington on Monday to start his stint with the Saints after standing down from his job with the Sydney Kings.
Adding to the degree of difficulty was the absence of Tall Blacks Corey Webster and BJ Anthony, while the Tab Baldwin-coached Hawks were at full strength.
Understandably the Saints were far from the compete package at TSB Bank Arena but the seven-time champions showed more than enough to suggest that at least they will take their usual berth in the semifinals.
Point guard Lindsay Tait (17 points, 14 assists) had a poor shooting night (5/19 FG) but came up big when it mattered in overtime with a series of crucial plays.
A Tait lay-up gave the hosts a 89-88 lead with 50 seconds to play and after Hawks forward Paora Winitana missed a three, Tait found Damien Ekenasio for an easy bucket to stretch the advantage to three.
Hawks point guard Jarrod Kenny then stepped out of bounds and Tait hit two free throws to ice the game as a late Everard Bartlett three proved mere consolation.
"The guys came to play, it was good for their confidence and the character of the team to be able to win without two of our starters," Heal said.
"From a coaching point of view I felt naked out there. I didn't have any zone to be able to go to, I didn't have any press to go to. Even though the other guys have been learning some of our sets for a little while, we were just all over the place. So to get over the line considering all that was really good."
While Tait was the overtime hero, import Ernest Scott ensured the Saints got the extra term in the first place.
Scott (26 points, 10/16 FG) only arrived in Wellington on Saturday but the sharpshooting forward is no stranger to the capital, having had two previous stints with the Saints in 2008 and 2012.
The Hawks led for most of the second half but Scott hit three straight triples to help square things at 82-all at the end of regulation.
Winitana launched a three-point attempt on the buzzer and while the shot missed he appeared to be fouled and the upset Hawks had to dust themselves off for overtime.
New Saints import Elijah Obade grew in confidence throughout his debut and finished with an impressive 16 points and 16 rebounds.
And Dion Prewster, who played for the Hawks last season, hit four of seven from deep to finish with 21 points.
The undersized Ekenasio did a manful job against big Hawks imports Kareem Johnson and Dustin Scott, hauling in 11 boards and playing tough defence.
Breakers shooting guard Webster is available for the road games against the Giants in Nelson tomorrow and the Rams in Christchurch on Sunday.
But the arrival of Adelaide forward Anthony is a way off as he prepares for the ANBL grand final series against Perth.
Wellington Saints 93 (Ernest Scott 26, Dion Prewster 21, Lindsay Tait 17) Bay Hawks 91 (Everard Bartlett 15)
- The Dominion Post
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