The MBO Tall Blacks might just have rewritten the book on how to win ugly, after grinding out a 63-60 win over Lebanon to move to the top of Pool E in FIBA World Cup Qualifying, in a game full of character, concentration and focus under intense pressure.
The win moves the New Zealanders to 7 and 1 and handed Lebanon their second defeat of the qualifying campaign, but it was not one for the fans of flowing offence and high percentage shooting as both sides got locked in an arm wrestle, with the Kiwis proving strongest in the dying moments.
Head Coach Paul Henare spoke of his pride in the group at finding a way to get the job done.
“There was a degree of relief at the end of that one, but also a large amount of pride that the boys found a way to win when it looked for most of the game that it wouldn’t go our way. That speaks volumes about the character in this group, to continue to stay together during those moments, and focus on each play.
“Credit to Lebanon though, that was not a surprise to us at all. I watched them play China in Beirut and I knew they would fight and be in the battle for a long time, I have nothing but respect for the way they play the game and their contribution to the contest tonight.”
New Zealand started well enough, with no early signs of the shooting troubles that would follow, with Tai Webster, Shea Ili, Rueben Te Rangi, Isaac Fotu and Rob Loe starting for the Tall Blacks, with coach Henare choosing to leave Corey Webster to come off the bench.
But the buckets dried up with New Zealand struggling inside and out, with Ater Majok a towering presence in the paint, and Lebanon cleared out to an 18-7 first quarter lead. The Kiwis responded though, scoring the first 11 points of the second quarter to tie the game up at 18.
But Lebanon were nothing if not resilient, and continued to eke out a small lead, at times extending to 7 points and looking like causing the upset. But each time the Tall Blacks found an answer, more often than not through lock down defence led by irrepressible guard Shea Ili, the Breakers guard was a constant menace to the Lebanese.
New Zealand finally retook the lead (they led in the opening two minutes) with one minute remaining, forcing the Lebanese into a travel and a time clock violation as the visitors ran out of legs and ideas to combat the smothering defence of the men in black.
Rueben Te Rangi was ice cool from the free throw line, making both to extend to the final score of 63-60, before New Zealand forced another turnover from the visitors to sew up the result in front of a passionate Rotorua crowd.
MBO Tall Blacks 63 (Ili 14, T Webster 13, C Webster 11)
Lebanon 60 (Rustom 19)
Guards: Shea Ili, SKYCITY Breakers; Jarrod Kenny, Cairns Taipans; Ethan Rusbatch, Bay Hawks; Tai Webster, Galatasaray (Turkey);
Forwards: Reuben Te Rangi, Brisbane Bullets; Dion Prewster, Bay Hawks; Jordan Ngatai, SKYCITY Breakers; Isaac Fotu, Ratiopharm Ulm (Germany); Finn Delany, SKYCITY Breakers; Mika Vukona, Brisbane Bullets;
Centres: Rob Loe, Cairns Taipans; Tohi Smith-Milner, Melbourne United
Head Coach: Paul Henare
Assistant Coaches: Pero Cameron, Mike Fitchett
Physiotherapist: Anousith Bouaaphone
Massage Therapist: Shelley Moana Hiha
Manager: Andrew Dewhurst
MBO Tall Blacks FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, ROUND TWO
Date | Opponents | Home/Away
AWAY: 13 Sep 2018 vs Syria, Nouhad Nawfal Stadium, Zouk Mikael, Lebanon Tall Blacks won 107-66
HOME: 17 Sep 2018 vs Lebanon, Energy Events Centre, Rotorua. Tip off 7pm
HOME: 29 Nov 2018 vs Jordan, Horncastle Arena, Christchurch
HOME: 2 Dec 2018 vs Syria, TSB Bank Arena, Wellington
AWAY: 21 or 22 Feb 2019 vs Lebanon in Lebanon
AWAY: 24 or 25 Feb 2019 vs Jordan in Jordan
MBO Tall Blacks FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, ROUND ONE
Date | Opponents | Home/Away
23 Nov 2017 vs Korea at TSB Bank Arena, Wellington. Tall Blacks lost 80-86
26 Nov 2017 vs Hong Kong at Southourn Stadium, Hong Kong. Tall Blacks won 133-74
23 Feb 2018 vs China at Dongguan Basketball Centre, China. Tall Blacks won 82-73
26 Feb 2018 vs Korea at Jamsil Gymnasium, Seoul, South Korea. Tall Blacks won 93-84
28 Jun 2018 vs Hong Kong at Energy Events Centre, Rotorua. Tall Blacks won 124-65
1 Jul 2018 vs China vs Spark Arena, Auckland. Tall Blacks won 67-57
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• The games will be broadcast live by the Host Broadcaster, Maori Television.
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