The Tall Blacks made quite the statement with their opening win at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games as they thumped Nigeria 110-65 in a strong start to the competition in Cairns.
After a nervous start, the Tall Blacks came alive on the back of a vintage Tom Abercrombie offensive display and some typically strong defence that continued to deny Nigeria any way into the contest.
The Africans were already a tough scout for New Zealand, with not a great deal known about a number of their players, but that job was made even harder when they took the court wearing different numbers to those that had been submitted the day prior, but as it turned out that was about as difficult as it got for the New Zealanders who went about dismantling their opposition with ruthless efficiency.
Abercrombie finished with a game high 21 points on 4 of 6 shooting – with every shot taken from beyond the three-point arc. The small forward enjoyed great support though, with Jordan Ngatai (16), Finn Delany (14), Rob Loe (12) and Ethan Rusbatch (12) all in double figures, as the entire roster saw a spread of minutes with Head Coach Paul Henare able to sit his starters down for the final quarter, with tomorrow’s game against Australia top of mind.
Abercrombie described a solid start to the campaign.
“It is good to get started with a good win, I thought we came out on the front foot and established the way we want to play early on and our pressure ground them down eventually and we were able to build a good lead.
“We put the clamps on in that third quarter, they only had two points for the large majority of it, we want to hang our hat on the defensive end and what we do down there, we were able to build a bit of that identity tonight which was good.”
The Breakers sharp shooter was pleased with his own form at the offensive end as well, as he led a three-point clinic with the team going 14 of 29 from deep.
“It was good to knock a few down and get us off to a good start, hopefully that is a sign of things to come in the tournament.”
Mika Vukona set the tone, the captain was inspirational at both ends of the floor but was a menace on defence, finishing with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in a stat line that still didn’t do justice to the way he led his side.
Best for Nigeria was former NBA forward Ikechukw Diogu. 34-year-old Diogu was a danger early in the paint but was gradually worn down by the defence of the New Zealanders, eventually sitting for most of the second half after coming off second best in a clash with Vukona.
With the starters enjoying the chance to rest in the final quarter, the bench came alive and maintained the high standards, with Delany lighting up from inside and out for his 14 points, while Derone Raukawa got valuable minutes at the point and led the side home strongly.
Abercrombie was quickly moving on from tonight’s win though, with a juicy clash against gold medal favourites Australia in less than 24 hours.
“Tomorrow is massive, we will do all we can to rest and recovery and get ready for a tough challenge against a good Boomers team, we have been looking forward to this one.”
New Zealand led by 15 at half time but turned the screws in the third quarter (31-8) to effectively end the contest and ensure that the entire roster saw plenty of minutes on the floor and the chance to ease into their Games experience.
Tall Blacks 110 (Abercrombie 21, Ngatai 16, Delany 14, Loe 12, Rusbatch 12)
Nigeria 65 (Dike 15, Diogu 12)
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