It was just that close.

The Wellington Saints kept their 2019 NBL record pristine with their sixth victory on Saturday night at Springvale Stadium, but that was only after sweating on three back-board and rim-hitting missed shots in a pulsating final ten seconds from the Manawatu Jets.

When the dust settled, the league's top team had just clung on 106-104 against the squad ranked eighth overall.

Trailing the Jets by a point coming into the final quarter but showing champion composure by turning it around to a 98-87 advantage with the clock running down, it seemed the Saints were going to pull away, just as they did the week before against the Southern Huskies in Hobart.


Their top scorer Reuben Te Rangi (26 points), had started raining down three pointers from the far right corner, connecting with seven from 11 attempts overall, while playmaker Shea Ili (21 points, five assists) ratcheted up the pace coming in and out of the keyhole.

They had good support from Jordan Ngatai (19 points) and Nicholas Kay (15), while being a well rounded squad full of tall timber meant key contributions, like rebound goals, came from skipper Leon Henry and Robert Loe, both with nine points.

For the Jets, it was all about what "Team America" could do in Dashion Knight (34 points), Kuran Iverson (31, four assists) and Wallace Ellenson (27), as the "home" side stayed with the favourites from the opening buzzer to the last.

Daishon Knight was the game's top scorer.
Daishon Knight was the game's top scorer.

In a perspiring final quarter, that saw several delays to wipe up pools of sweat from the court, the Saints were nearly run down in the final stretch as they missed several free-throws which could have taken them back out to a safe margin, while coach Paul Henare's remonstrations with the refs earned him a technical foul and gave Knight an extra free throw point.

The Jets plan in the final seconds was to get the ball to Iverson, who was seeking redemption after he got hurt in this corresponding game at Springvale last year when the Saints hammered the Jets by 20 points.

He received the ball to the left of the hoop and tried to duck through multiple leaping defenders, as he had all match by often taking the Saints on up the middle in 1 vs 3 situations.

In heavy traffic, Iverson's shot missed, with the ball popping back out to Knight for a field goal that was also away, as was Ellenson's leaping tip – the Jets scrambling to regain the ball yet again but with the final second having ticked off the clock.

"We did enough to win it, I guess. I'm really proud of the effort," said disappointed Jets coach Tim McTamney.

"Most teams would have folded early in the piece, the way the Saints were playing.

"We'll probably rue the fact we missed a couple of easy ones.

"We made some good change-ups, defensively.

"No one else has got close to them."

In total, McTamney rearranged the formation 25 times, but his Jets and in particular the American trio proved adaptable to it, as opposed to last year when they stayed one-dimensional and got into a three-pointer exchange with the Saints that they had no hope of winning.

Former Wellington Saint Taane Samuels (six points) had his moments against his old franchise and looks like he could be a prospect for the future.

New Jet Taane Samuels takes on his former Saints captain Leon Henry.
New Jet Taane Samuels takes on his former Saints captain Leon Henry.

The lead changed hands 15 times in the match, while two teams were locked up eight times.

A slam dunk by Iverson early had the estimated 500-strong crowd rumbling early for the Jets, who took a 32-31 lead out of the first quarter, which the Saints flipped to their 58-57 advantage by halftime.

But at no point could they shake off the Jets, who went down 50-43 but kept making those little gains, with Iverson snatching a handful of steals and then landing a pressure jump shot despite midair contact – puffing out his chest and yelling before converting the free throw for 50-all.

Remember last year's disastrous third quarter, the Jets were back out of the changing room first in the halftime break and practicing their three-pointers.

But rather than try a shooting match, the Saints slowed down the pace, looking to nullify the Manawatu team's notable fast break points (21 compared to 10).

A solid burst of turnovers and conversions took the Jets from five points down to leading 76-75 at three quarter time, with the Saints looking thoughtful.

But champion teams know how to shoot for the kill, as Te Rangi hit a quartet of three pointers from the far right, compared to one in reply from Ellenson, to turn the momentum at 90-81, which became 92-85 with six minutes left.

Ellenson took a couple of nasty spills in both fouling and being fouled, with a trickle of blood from the back of his head.

Wallace Ellenson slams home a reverse dunk.
Wallace Ellenson slams home a reverse dunk.

Ili got his hustle on, making Knight chase him, although Samuels rejecting a layup from the Saint's Sunday Dech (seven points) lifted the fans spirits, although at 98-89 the evening was looking over.

Knight kept working and added by an extra free throw when Henare argued with the officials – after Dech got called for getting tangled up with Knight and Iverson – and it was 103-96 with the Jets still in possession.

Knight then pulled up for a massive three pointer to have the stadium rumbling.

With a minute left, the Jets gave up several fouls but the Saints rarely converted both free throw attempts, as Ellenson added another clutch three pointer for 104-102, while Iverson's followup attempt went in-and-out before the Saints again got to go back to the line.

Te Rangi hit one from two, and Ellenson sparked off for a quick layup, as again the Jets fouled at 105-104.

Just as before, Dench managed only one from two, and the Jets called their time out with 10s remaining, planning for a two-pointer to send the match to overtime.

But despite their American imports best efforts, the Saints defended their hoop to the death to get out of Whanganui with their undefeated record intact.

Jackson Stubbins hits a three pointer.
Jackson Stubbins hits a three pointer.