The Tall Blacks have earned a hard-fought 106-91 win over Lebanon in Wellington tonight, relying on their veteran trio to provide the scoring, while weathering some tough Cedars defence in the second half.
New Zealand built up an eight-point lead after the first half, before briefly falling behind in the third thanks to hot Lebanon shooting combined with lockdown defence. Undaunted, the Kiwis rallied in a pivotal fourth behind Hyrum Harris and his 10 fourth-quarter points, all the while holding Lebanon to just 11 points in the period as the Tall Blacks claimed their eighth win of the World Cup Qualifiers.
Isaac Fotu led all scorers for the Kiwis with 23 points and 7 rebounds on 10/12 shooting, while Jordan Ngatai added a solid 21 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists while shooting 5/6 from downtown. Reuben Te Rangi was also hot from behind the arc, sinking 5/8 triples for his 21 points. Harris had another strong game off the bench with 14 points and 8 rebounds (6/6 free throws), with Tohi Smith-Milner adding 12 on 4/6 shooting.
For Lebanon, Amir Saoud impressed with his 28 points, while Sergio El Darwich added 25 and Gerard Hadidian chipped in with 15 points and 5 rebounds.
As a team, New Zealand dominated on the boards with a 35-23 count, while shooting a lights-out 65% from the field despite Lebanon’s defensive pressure – including 14 triples at an impressive 54% clip. On the flip side, the Kiwis were guilty of 15 turnovers while allowing the Cedars to shoot 50% from the field themselves; two factors which Coach Pero Cameron will need to improve on in the future.
The Tall Blacks relied heavily on the veteran duo of Te Rangi and Fotu in the first 5 minutes, with Reuben scoring 8 points – including a pair of threes – and Fotu working inside for 6 of his own. Three pointers from Rusbatch, Te Rangi and Ngatai helped give the Kiwis a 25-15 lead, which became 30-20 by end of quarter; Te Rangi registering 11 (3/4 from downtown), Fotu 7 as New Zealand shot a blistering 12/15 from the field.
Fotu continued to have his way against the Lebanon front line in the second period, scoring on four straight possessions – including a pair of offensive putbacks – but the Cedars were able to keep pace, several times relying on hard fouls to keep Fotu and Harris away from the basket. Overcoming some strong defence from the Cedars, the Tall Blacks were able to carry a 58-50 advantage into the second half thanks to Te Rangi (19 points), Fotu (17) and Ngatai (10) in particular.
Despite a consistent full court press from Lebanon, back-to-back triples from Ngatai and Rodger built the lead to 13 for New Zealand at the 6 minute mark. But with 3 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the quarter, the Cedars embarked on a remarkable 13-0 scoring run as they nailed three triples in a 90 second span to reclaim a 80-78 lead. That lead was short-lived as a Taylor Britt triple put the Kiwis back out in front, before Te Rangi – held scoreless in the third after a 19 point first half – hit one of three free throws after being fouled at the buzzer to give the Tall Blacks a 84-80 buffer.
The Kiwis re-built the lead up to nine points to start the fourth, thanks to a triple from Ngatai and layup from Harris. Undeterred, Lebanon stormed back thanks to 6 straight points from Sauod – including a 4-point play – coming back to within 2 points on a Ali Mansour jumper with just under seven minutes left to play.
Incredibly, that would be the last points Lebanon would score in the game, as the Tall Blacks tightened up their defence and limited the Cedars to 0-10 shooting over the last 6 minutes. While Harris stepped up during this run with six straight points (including 4-4 free throws), the Cedars didn’t help their cause late in the game – picking up an unsportsmanlike foul followed by a technical from their bench in the dying minutes.
This win gives New Zealand sole possession of first place in Group E of the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, which bodes well for the FIBA World Cup seeing draw at the end of April.
New Zealand 106 – Fotu 23 PTS & 7 REB | Ngatai 21 PTS & 6 AST & 6 REB | Te Rangi 21 PTS | Smith-Milner 12 PTS & 5 REB | Harris 14 PTS & 8 REB | Britt 7 PTS & 5 AST | Rusbatch 5 PTS | Rodger 3 PTS & 6 AST
Lebanon 91 – Sauod 28 PTS | Sergio El Darwich 25 PTS | Gerard Hadidian 15 PTS & 5 REB | Hayk Gyokchyan 9 PTS | Mansour 8 PTS
Quarter scores: 30-20, 58-50, 84-80, 106-91.
Full box score: http://bbnz.link/vxt2m