Airs rally to pip Rams

Taranaki Mountain Airs import Adrian Oliver climbs high for another basket.
Taranaki Mountain Airs import Adrian Oliver climbs high for another basket.

The Taranaki Mountain Airs found themselves cornered by the Canterbury Rams on Saturday night but somehow managed to find an opening to escape with a 99-92 win.

With time almost up, the Good Home Mountain Airs had let a 10-point lead, midway through the quarter, slip away and the sides were locked at 88-88 with the Rams mounting their charge.

Thankfully for the home side, foul trouble tripped them up and the Airs and their fans - all 1000 of them on their feet for the final minute of play - were able to celebrate their fourth win of the season in the National Basketball League competition.

"That was a scrap, just like at training," Mountain Airs captain Aaron Bailey-Nowell said.

"At practice, we don't make it easy for one another. It was a battle and we got there in the end. Credit to them, they played hard and they're a good side. We just have to carry on now and make some good plays down the stretch."

Bailey-Nowell said the crowd was incredible.

"I loved the crowd tonight. It's the biggest we've had this year and they were into it."

Big forward Suleiman Braimoh was also pumped on the night, with 25 points, 16 rebounds and two steals.

"We had to work hard as a team and the guys responded. I love winning, I love the competition . . . it brings out the best in me. And I loved the crowd, they were having a good time."

While the Mountain Airs came out on the right side of the scoresheet, it wasn't a perfect performance by any means.

They started poorly with the Rams fast out of the pen racing to a 19-8 lead midway through the first quarter.

A 12-point run by Taranaki rounded them in, with the Airs ahead 20-19. But Canterbury hit back with seven unanswered points to lead 28-22 at the first break.

The second quarter was dominated by the Airs, with the visitors not helping themselves by getting into foul trouble midway through the quarter. Taranaki won the quarter 30-18 and went to the halftime team talk ahead 52-46.

Taranaki threatened to run away with the game in the third quarter, extending their lead to 67-57, but their shooting went cold and the Rams fought back to claim the quarter 22-21 and reduce the lead to 73-68.

The fourth and final quarter was a nervous one for home fans as the Airs pushed out to a nine- point lead and then let it slip thanks to a combination of poor defence, wrong option-taking and soft turnovers giving the Rams a sniff of victory. That was enough, and they stormed back to level with one minute, 13 seconds remaining.

The visitors, however, were again in foul trouble and with the Airs going to the free-throw line on four occasions to net six points, any chance of a Rams victory disappeared.

Import Adrian Oliver backed up his 42 points from the previous week with a game-high 30 points for the Mountain Airs along with eight rebounds and a steal. He shot 50 per cent from outside the arc, netting four from eight.

Bailey-Nowell had his most productive night of the season with 20 points, five rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot, while Brad Anderson also scored 20 points.

For the Rams, Glen Dandridge led the scoring with 23 points, with Marcel Jones and Ricky Edwards both scoring 18.

Jones collected 14 rebounds, with Dandridge nine and Edwards six.

The Airs now have a week to prepare for a tough match against the Southland Sharks in New Plymouth on Saturday night.

The Rams' poor weekend continued yesterday, suffering a 112-97 loss to the Super City Rangers.

On Saturday, the Waikato Pistons came back in overtime to pip the Otago Nuggets 91-88 in Dunedin.

On Friday night, the Bay Hawks won their sixth game straight, beating the Nelson Giants 82-77 in Nelson, and the Southland Sharks edged out the Pistons 92-88.

Results: Page 19

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