The EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls staged a stunning final quarter comeback to snatch a 101-99 victory over the Taranaki Steelformers Mountainairs at Franklin Pool & Leisure Centre in their Sal’s NBL clash on Saturday night.
The two sides put on a show despite being out of the playoff race with a finals-like intensity with the home side coming out on top in a classic shoot-out over the final six minutes.
The win ensures the Bulls won’t finish with the worst record in their maiden Sal’s NBL campaign and completes a two-game season sweep of the Airs.
Manel Ayol led the Bulls with 31 points, including three clutch treys down the stretch, and brought down six rebounds while Denhym Brooke stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, three treys, 11 rebounds, a pair of steals and six blocks in his best game of the campaign.
Import Marcel Jones powered the Airs offense with a game-high 39 points and enjoyed a fearsome head-to-head battle with Brooke most of the night.
The visitors shot out of the blocks and had control of the game through the first two quarters.
It took until just over six minutes left in the third quarter for Bulls scoring leader Kyrin Galloway to score his first points of the night, but it helped inspire a brief Bulls run that saw them close within four points of the Airs.
Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape provided the spark off the bench the visitors needed as the home side found their shot and their supporters found their voice.
He hit three big treys, telling the Bulls bench all about it on each occasion, to grab back the initiative and ensure the visitors took a nine-point lead into the final quarter.
But the Bulls had more fight in them as they went on a 5-0 run to start the final quarter and take the game deep as Ayol hit some big shots and pushed the Bulls in front for the first time with a little over six minutes to play.
The intensity threatened to spill over with Brooke and Jones getting into a shoving match in the dying moments with the game on the line.
Jones hit a couple of big shots to keep the Airs in the fight, but the Bulls did enough to secure their fifth win of the campaign.
Franklin Bulls 101 defeated Taranaki Mountainairs 99 - BOXSCORE
Bulls: Manel Ayol 31 points & 6 rebounds, Denhym Brooke 15 points, 11 rebounds & 6 blocks, Jaylen Gerrand 22 points.
Airs: Marcel Jones 39 points & 15 rebounds, Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape 15 points, Tai Wynyard 12 points & six rebounds.
They have lost MVP calibre players in Josh Selby and Zane Waterman but the Franklin Bulls have some character about them. Despite having to rebuild their roster mid-season they continue to fight hard and will be no easy beats in the final weeks.
Marcel Jones wound back the clock in another quality performance from the veteran and former MVP. He led all scorers with 39 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and was responsible for pacing the Airs with buckets when they really needed them.
The cow bells are a thing now. There is no question they will annoy opposition sides (let alone some home fans) but they have caught on at the Stockyard. It was encouraging for the fledgling franchise to see a good crowd turn up too despite them not having much to play for.