A hot first quarter has been enough for the Wellington Saints to sail past the Canterbury Rams at Cowles Stadium tonight.
The Saints shot out of the gate to a 28-18 first quarter lead and despite a decent performance, the Rams never quite threatened throughout the rest of the game.
Kevin Braswell's Saints side still have no imports, and were missing Beny Anthony through injury, leaving them with a strong six-man core rotation, plus decent spot minutes from Damian Ekenasio, Jackson Stubbins and recent veteran addition Arthur Trousdell.
While that relatively shorter bench may come into play more against a deep Southland Sharks side tomorrow, their classy core was more than enough to deal to a Rams side who started sloppily on defence and eventually paid the price.
Some excellent looks in transition started the Saints' offensive outing, with Corey Webster cashing in early, creating easy looks and then hitting the tougher shots.
In his first game after parting ways with the Breakers, Webster showed his obvious talents with 25 points, six rebounds and an NBL career-high eight assists, and working well with Tai Wesley, who contributed 23 points and 14 rebounds.
Wesley was the man to profit when the Rams fixed their early defensive leaks, hitting some floaters in the lane as the Saints played more methodically, but still created excellent ball movement.
The Rams got within five points during the third quarter, but the Saints always matched their runs, with Shea Ili (14 points, seven rebounds and five assists) displaying his continually improving stroke from deep with four high-arcing threes.
Canterbury's improved defensive showing as the game progressed wasn't quite matched by their offence, which was at times bogged down against a very solid Saints defensive scheme.
The Rams managed to find some open looks for knockdown shooter Marcus Alipate, who had a team-high 19 points, but they couldn't get the same production as last week from the high-usage duo of Jeremy Kendle (10 points on 4/13 shooting) and Marcel Jones (16 on 7/14).
Perhaps guilty of being a bit too isolation-heavy, the Rams also didn't have much luck shooting the ball from outside, going at a 28% clip (8/28).
They held up well enough on the glass despite being undersized, with Marques Whippy having a solid outing, but import Will Neighbour again underwhelmed with just eight points in 16 minutes of action.
Ethan Rusbatch looked good on his return to action with 16 points and some impressive athleticism.
The Saints now travel immediately to Invercargill for their tough back-to-back against their fellow title contenders, the Southland Sharks, while the Rams visit the Nelson Giants on Saturday night.