The MBO Tall Blacks will be favorites when they play Hong Kong and China at home in four months’ time, after comfortably accounting for the Republic of Korea 93 – 84 in front of a partisan home crowd in Seoul tonight.
Following hard on the heels of a hugely impressive win in China, the young Tall Blacks again showed superb composure under pressure in this FIBA World Cup Qualifier, playing a high tempo game that again wore down their opposition. With a smothering all court defense and a variety of players stepping up on offence, Paul Henare’s side showed they are well and truly over the first-up loss to Korea in Wellington last November.
Corey Webster was at his brilliant best for the New Zealanders, his 30 points coming off just 18 shots. They included 6 of 9 from deep and 6 assists to keep his team mates involved. He received superb support from his big men, with Isaac Fotu (18 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals), Alex Pledger (12 & 10) and Rob Loe (11) combining brilliantly in the paint, with Fotu huge in the second half with 9 third quarter points providing the momentum for the Tall Blacks to kick on to victory.
Head Coach Paul Henare spoke with great pride of a young team that has made a big statement in this FIBA window.
“They continue to grow and mature, and develop, and their identity is forever shifting slightly with the input we get from multiple players. This is the first time in a long time that Alex Pledger has pulled on the black singlet and he was really effective. We have guys like Corey Webster who has been around for a long time and is extremely effective in what he does, and just across the board it is a fun group to be around. I am happy for them that they can perform at a really high level.
“I think tonight was a good sign for our depth, especially in such an important position at point guard. Tai Webster struggled tonight with fouls, the game just didn’t go his way and that is going to happen. But to have Shea Ili step up after having such a strong Asia Cup, and also Jarrod Kenny with the way he can lead with his experience, and the way he can defend and continue with that pressure, he was crucial in how the team ran and another sign of the depth in our group.”
Henare noted the impact of the bigs, led by Isaac Fotu in the second half as he took the game on his shoulders.
“I thought he was composed in that second half. In the first half we shied away from some contact and physicality, but in the second half we were stronger and finished some plays. I was pleased with the movement and passing between our bigs and being able to finish plays, and keep scoreboard pressure on. When you are on the road, applying pressure with easy baskets and getting to the foul line is crucial. Isaac Fotu managed to get there 12 times. That showed his aggressiveness throughout the game.”
Henare also had a word for Corey Webster, for his play on and his demeanor off court.
“I have been hugely impressed and was very proud of seeing a guy like Corey Webster continue to grow. His on-court ability is phenomenal. We watch practice and talk to Pero and Fitchy, we see the stuff he does, and we shake our heads and wonder how he does it. But he has matured with what he does with the ball in hand, 30 points on 18 shots is highly efficient and 6 assists on the stat line is a real sign of his growth and maturity as a player.
“Where I was really proud to see him grow was in his leadership in the locker room, just simple messages he was giving at important times, before games and leading into games and throughout games as well. Even towards the end of tonight’s game I called a time out, but they looked at me and said nah, we are good and proceeded to run a play perfectly. To see that maturity and leadership on and off court is great.”
It was far from one-way traffic, with the Koreans overturning an early deficit to lead by ten in the second quarter, with import big man Ricardo Ratliffe impressing with 29 points, albeit he took 29 shots to accumulate those points. But they had no answer for the suffocating approach of the Tall Blacks, with the frustration and disappointment of some of the coaching staff evident in the lack of handshakes at the final buzzer.
With the game won, Henare took the chance to give a Tall Blacks debut to 18-year-old Dan Fotu, who took the court to the delight of his team mates, joining his older brother Isaac in representing his nation at senior level. He took the court not long after Finn Delany suffered a nasty head clash. He was taken from the court to hospital where he received eight stitches to close a cut over his right eye. The possibility of a fracture was ruled out and he was cleared by doctors after treatment.
The Tall Blacks now disperse back to their club teams around the globe, with the bulk of the group travelling directly to Australia where the Breakers start their NBL semifinal series against Melbourne on Saturday night, before returning to play game two at Spark Arena on Monday night, 5 March.
Next up for the MBO Tall Blacks will be the June/July FIBA window. They will host Hong Kong in Rotorua and China at Spark Arena in Auckland, in their final Pool A games before moving on to the next phase of World Cup qualifying.
Republic of Korea 84 (Ratcliffe 28, Oh 16, Jeon 13)
MBO Tall Blacks 93 (C Webster 30, I Fotu 18, Pledger 12, Loe 11)
BOX SCORE and FIBA game review
FIBA World Cup Qualifiers: Round 1, Group A – Tall Blacks Games
New Zealand is in Group A for the first window, along with China, South Korea and Hong Kong. The top three will progress and carry points through to next window of qualifying.
23 November v South Korea, in Wellington. (Tall Blacks lost 80 – 86)
26 November v Hong Kong, in Hon Kong. (Tall Blacks won 133 – 74).
23 February v China, Dongguan Basketball Center, China. (Tall Blacks won 82 – 73)
26 February v South Korea, Jamsil Arena, Seoul. (Tall Blacks won 93 – 84)
28 June v Hong Kong, Energy Events Centre, Rotorua. 7pm.
1 July v China, Spark Arena, Auckland. 3:30pm.
Tickets for the home games – MBO Tall Blacks vs Hong Kong in Rotorua on 28 June and vs China in Auckland on 1 July – will go on sale in April or early May.
• The meaning of Tu Kaha, the Tall Blacks haka
• Learn more about the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers (Asia Zone).
• Tall Blacks supporters gear can be purchased here.
• Follow the Tall Blacks’ social media channels: @TallBlacks Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
• Tall Blacks media releases.
• All Tall Blacks FIBA World Cup Qualifying games will be broadcast by Maori Television.