The MBO Tall Blacks paid the price for a slow start in their opening FIBA 2019 World Cup warm up game, losing 99-89 to a fired-up Japan in Chiba on Monday night.
The home side were quick out of the blocks in front of a sold-out crowd, while the Tall Blacks couldn’t find a basket and found themselves trailing 18-2 midway through the first quarter. There was no panic in the New Zealand team though, and they slowly but surely clawed their way back into the contest, down by 11 at the end of the first quarter and within six by halftime.
That effort told however, as Japan broke the game open in the third, eventually winning by ten.
Tall Blacks Head Coach Paul Henare was pleased with the effort of his side, if not the execution at times in their first game of the World Cup campaign.
“It wasn’t jitters, but at an international level this Japanese group is playing well, they are physical and athletic and you just can replicate that first hit of intensity, and for our first game you could see it, it was like a punch in the face for our guys.
“It is good for us to get that out of the way for the boys to get that work on the lungs and game fitness. There is a lot to improve on, but we had chances to close that gap especially in the second half.”
Henare was however pleased with the way his side stayed calm in the face of the poor start, with contributions across the floor as the Tall Blacks looked to grind their way back into the game. Ethan Rusbatch was a spark from the bench, making his first two triples to end with 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting.
“I thought we held our composure really well, they got out to 16-18 points and for us to hold our composure and keep grinding away and chipping away was really good, so the response was good. Obviously the big improvement is not to put ourselves in such a big hole to start with.”
Henare spoke about the glaring stat that might well have been the difference between the two teams, with the Tall blacks shooting just 6 of 35 from deep.
“For a long time, we have been reliant on putting the ball in the hole from the three-point line and from our 35 that we took, I thought a high percentage were good looks for us. You need to knock those down to keep the scoreboard pressure on, to go 6 of 35 is well under par for where we are at. And we had some communication breakdowns at the defensive end that allowed them to keep the scoreboard ticking over at a high rate, so we have to improve at both ends.”
Henare was offering no excuses however, and paid credit again to Japan for their performance as they too are World Cup bound, speaking of his expectations of the entire group whenever the team steps on the floor.
“That winning mentality, the hunger and pride that we have is something we need to enforce every time we step out on the floor, that won’t change the whole way through this World Cup and the buildup. That is part of who we are and why we can compete with so many nations.”
Tai Webster was the best for the New Zealanders, testing Japan with his drives to the hoop, ending with 18 points and 7 assists. Isaac Fotu had 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting (100% from two-point range) and 10 rebounds, while Corey Webster, Ethan Rusbatch, Rob Loe and Tom Abercrombie all ended in double figures.
The two teams back up again in Kawasaki in 48 hours (Wednesday night 10pm NZT), with the game again covered live on Sky Sport.
“We will have some sore bodies after that, some players that haven’t played for a few months, but we will look to others to step up in 48 hours-time to give us that punch.”
MBO Tall Blacks 89 (T Webster 18, Fotu 16, C Webster 14, Rusbatch 12, Loe 10, Abercrombie 10)
Japan v Tall Blacks - Wednesday 14 August, 9.50pm, SKY Sport 9
FIBA World Cup official website: http://www.fiba.basketball/basketballworldcup/2019
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