Led by Tom Abercrombie, the Tall Blacks broke Lebanese hearts and once again showed they are a force to be reckoned with on the international stage with a clutch 69-67 victory in Beirut tonight (Saturday), notching their tenth consecutive FIBA World Cup qualifying victory to stay top of Asia Group E with just a clash with Jordan (Sunday) to play.
This was always going to be an arm wrestle in one of the most intimidating and deafening environments in sport, with 8,000 fans literally hanging from the rafters at Nouhad Nawfal Stadium in Zouk Mikael, Beirut, and it was the Tall Blacks who came out strongest on the back of some clutch shooting and huge defensive plays from the team in white.
While much of the attention will rightly be on Abercrombie’s ice cool three to finally separate the sides, the truth is there were many such moments throughout the match, not the least of which were supplied by Finn Delany, who went into beast mode for his 15 points and 8 rebounds, living above the rim for much of the game including one 'and one' ‘posterizing’ of Lebanese centre Ater Majok.
Head Coach Paul Henare spoke of his pride in a group that continues to find ways to win in the toughest of environments as they continue to march towards the World Cup in China later this year.
“That crowd is one of the best if not the best atmosphere and environments that you can ever play a basketball game in. Talk to any of the senior guys out there, they will tell you that is one of the top venues they have ever played in, that is credit to the fans and what is on the line. they were playing for their World Cup dreams so for us to fight through all of that I am really proud of the group.”
“We spoke a lot as a team coming into the game about what this stadium was like. We spoke about this being a game of runs, knowing they would make some shots, make some plays. We had to stay grounded as a team and stay solid and tight as a team. That game could have gone either way, that is three in a row know against Lebanon and we have just been fortunate to come out on the right side of the ledger.”
Henare described a typical Tall Black performance, with contributors across the roster, on offense and defense.
“Everyone that stepped on the floor contributed well. As an example, the play that Jordan Ngatai made – we were down by a few points, we drew up a play to get Jordan into the post and he made a settling basket from the post. For him to be ready and contribute in such an environment speaks volumes for our whole team and throughout the game we had different guys step up and make different plays at both ends.”
Henare did reserve special praise for the final offensive play though, one that had many moving parts.
“The boys were extremely locked in out of the time out, they did exactly what was asked of them. Not many will notice but the cut that Reuben Te Rangi made just made Tommy’s man sink in a little bit more, the screen from Rob Loe and the pass from Mika was right in the shot pocket. Tommy still has to make the shot, but there were a lot of working parts in that play and to be able to execute with what was on the line in that environment was pleasing.”
Abercrombie played with a rare passion and energy. Often someone who stays within himself, he was demonstrably leading the team and urging them on at different times in the match and took huge pride in his role in the win.
“I love it, it is always refreshing and rejuvenating to get back in this environment with the brothers, we have a great camaraderie and chemistry in this team and it is a pleasure to go out and fight with them and to play in a hostile environment like we did tonight, you rely on that brotherhood even more and that was a real special win tonight.
“it is hard to describe that environment, watching on TV won’t give you a true feel for what it is like. That is one of the best atmospheres I have ever played in, the fans are incredible and as a player that I sjust so motivating to go out and play in front of a crowd like that. You can’t help but get a little more amped and emotional about things. The crowd is literally riding every point, it is real special.”
Abercrombie was quick to praise his team mates in the final offensive play.
“We ran the play to a T. Ruebs did a great job cutting hard down the lane and drawing my defender a little bit and once he bit, I knew I would get a pretty good look. It is a side I like coming off and shooting it from, Rob cleaned him up pretty good and I got a great clean look. I had hit one from a couple of possessions before, so I was feeling pretty good and let it fly. To hit a shot like that in an atmosphere like that is a cool feeling and one I will remember for a long time.”
The team now travels to Jordan tomorrow (Saturday local time) to suit up again on Sunday afternoon in their final qualifying game against Jordan who tonight impressed in a win over China, knowing that a win will put the Kiwis in the race for top seeding out of Asia for the FIBA World Cup draw, to be made on March 16.
MBO Tall Blacks 69
Abercrombie 19, Delany 15
Ali Haidar 16, Wael Arakji 13
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MBO Tall Blacks vs Lebanon and Jordan
• Tom Abercrombie, SKYCITY Breakers
• Finn Delany, SKYCITY Breakers
• Tyrell Harrison, Brisbane Bullets
• Shea Ili, SKYCITY Breakers
• Jarrod Kenny, Cairns Taipans
• Rob Loe, Cairns Taipans
• Jordan Ngatai, SKYCITY Breakers
• Kruz Perrott-Hunt, SKYCITY Breakers Development
• Alex Pledger, Melbourne United
• Tohi Smith-Milner, Melbourne United
• Reuben Te Rangi, Brisbane Bullets
• Tom Vodanovich, SKYCITY Breakers
• Mika Vukona. Mike Pero Nelson Giants, Brisbane Bullets
• Corey Webster. SKYCITY Breakers
• Head Coach Paul Henare
• Assistant Coaches Pero Cameron, Michael Fitchett
• Physio Anousith Bouaaphone
• Massage Therapist Shelley Moana Hiha
• Doctor Hamish Osborne
• Manager Andrew Dewhurst
• On Maori TV delayed: 11pm, Saturday 23 Feb NZT)
• vs Jordan in Amman on 24 February (livestream on www.MaoriTelevision.com 3:30am Monday 25 Feb NZT. And on Te Reo channel, delayed to 8pm Monday 25 Feb NZT)
MBO Tall Blacks FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, ROUND TWO
Date | Opponents | Home/Away
• AWAY: 13 Sep 2018 vs Syria, Nouhad Nawfal Stadium, Lebanon. Tall Blacks won 107-66
• HOME: 17 Sep 2018 vs Lebanon, Energy Events Centre, Rotorua. Tall Blacks won 63-60
• HOME: 29 Nov 2018 vs Jordan, Horncastle Arena, Christchurch. Tall Blacks won 95-69
• HOME: 2 Dec 2018 vs Syria, TSB Bank Arena, Wellington. Tall Blacks won 97-74
• AWAY: 21 or 22 Feb 2019 vs Lebanon in Lebanon. Tall Blacks won 69-67
• 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
• Learn more about the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers (Asia Zone)
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• Tall Blacks website
• Read about Tū Kaha and the Tall Blacks culture
• The games will be broadcast live by the Host Broadcaster, Maori Television
• Watch the Tū Kaha webisode series on the Tall Blacks.