If improvement is what Head Coach Paul Henare was after, his Tall Blacks delivered and then some in a comprehensive 104-87 defeat of Japan in Kawasaki tonight, turning around the loss of 48 hours earlier in emphatic fashion.
Two days back the New Zealanders were slow out of the blocks in their first World Cup preparation hit-out, tonight they fired from the opening tip, draining 29 first quarter points before picking up the pace even more to close out the half 61-42.
The pace and rhythm were simply too much for Japan to keep up with, to the point that in the second half they started leaving players in the back court during free throws, to save weary legs from the up and down that the visitors were putting them through.
The effort was well and truly spread throughout the roster, with no one playing more than 24 minutes and five players in double figures, led by Ethan Rusbatch’s 16 points on five of eight shooting. The Bay Hawk’s guard put in another impressive shift, collecting five rebounds along the way to again shout from the rooftops that he is ready and waiting for that call from the Australian NBL.
Isaac Fotu was again big in the paint with 15 points and five boards, Corey Webster picked up 14 hard earned points, often finishing in amongst big bodies, Rob Loe’s 13 included three big triples, Tom Abercrombie was efficiency personified with 12 points, four boards and four assists.
Finn Delany provided a number of highlights, not the least of which was the reverse dunk on NBA bound Rui Hachimura, while Alex Pledger chipped in with six points and four boards off the bench.
Japan did threaten a comeback in front of an invitation only crowd in the second half, on a couple of occasions reducing the lead back into single figures, but each time they made a run, the Tall Blacks had the answers and blew the lead back out in the closing moments.
Point guard Tai Webster likes what he is seeing so far, despite the team being very early in their World Cup preparation.
“I think we have a great new system in place, something we have never seen from the Tall Blacks before, the pace we are playing at and that is encouraging to get a result like that tonight on the back of all the work we are doing in camp and practices, it is awesome to see that and makes us believe the coaches are doing a great job.
“I think it is a buy-in thing for everyone, all the guys need to buy in for it to work and I thought tonight the guys bought in and I thought we did a great job.
“My eyes kind of light up when we talk about the style we want to play, it kind of plays to my strengths, bringing some pace to the game, it opens up the court and I can make plays for myself but most importantly, for others.”
Henare was pleased for his players given the effort they have put in these past two weeks, with the camp in Auckland and the past week spent working hard in Japan.
“Much happier tonight, not so much the result, that is good, and we needed to leave with a win for the confidence and what that does for our group. But more so for the way we played and the way we imposed our style of game. There were some reactions from the Japanese team that were a good sign for us, the fact they were respecting the way we were playing with pace and trying to push the ball.”
“When you shoot the ball at a good clip you always give yourself a chance, and while we didn’t shoot the lights out we definitely shot at a better clip and it always helps when you can keep that scoreboard pressure on.”
Henare was impressed again by the performance of Rusbatch and the rewards he is reaping on the back of so much hard work.
“The way we are playing, the challenge in front of us is we need everyone to step up and perform. On Ethan, I don’t know if NBL clubs are watching – and I work for one, so maybe it is the pot calling the kettle black a little! But I am not sure they really appreciate what he can do, he is a legitimate threat from three, has a quick release, he is consistent, and he has put the work in. I am just happy for him and the work he has put in over the past few years that he is able to perform consistently at a high level.”
Henare also shared some words for Jordan Ngatai, on notching 50 games in the singlet.
“We were a little surprised when we heard that, it shows how long Jordan has been around for such a young guy. For him to get his 50th tonight was a proud moment for him. He does a lot of little things for us, he leads Tu Kaha but he does so much more, he is responsible for taking the young guys under his wing and teaching them and helping them understand. He didn’t play the other night, but he stayed ready, and that is such an important part of forming a team, having guys that know and understand their role and stay ready, putting the team before themselves.”
The team now travels to Sydney tomorrow, to prepare for two games against Canada on the 20th and 21st of August, before then making the trip to China to complete preparations for the World Cup, with game one against Brazil on September 1st.
MBO Tall Blacks 104 (Rusbatch 16, Fotu 15, C Webster 14, Loe 13, Abercrombie 12)
Japan 87 (Hachimura 19, Fazekas 17, Baba 12)
FIBA World Cup official website: http://www.fiba.basketball/basketballworldcup/2019
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