The Tall Blacks have registered an emphatic win in Christchurch tonight, dispatching Saudi Arabia 110-63 to earn their first World Cup Qualifier victory of 2023.
In scoring their most points in a game since a 113-94 win over Guam in 2020, the Tall Blacks had six players score in double figures – led by hometown hero Ethan Rusbatch who had 21 points and went 5 from 7 from downtown.
Reuben Te Rangi added 17 (on 6/7 shooting) and 5 assists, while Sam Waardenburg registered 17 points and 8 rebounds in an impressive Tall Blacks debut. Tohi Smith-Milner poured in 14 points and a pair of blocks in only 10 minutes of action, while big men Isaac Fotu and Tyrell Harrison chipped in 12 and 11 respectively.
The Kiwis shot a solid 65% overall from the field (42/65) including 12/26 from outside the arc at a 46% clip. They also assisted on a staggering 33 of their 42 made shots from the field, while forcing Saudi Arabia into 24 turnovers – which New Zealand turned into 31 points.
The game tipped off with a Tall Blacks starting line-up of Fotu, Smith-Milner, Te Rangi, Ngatai and Britt; Taylor making his 15th Tall Blacks appearance, but his first in front of a hometown Canterbury crowd. Fotu impressed early with 6 points in the first two minutes of play; Smith-Milner adding 5 points of his own as New Zealand raced out to an early 11-2 lead.
Te Rangi was also dangerous early with 7 points, but it was Cantabrian Ethan Rusbatch who put the crowd into a frenzy with a quick scoring barrage – subbing into the game with six minutes left and racking up 10 points on 4/4 shooting by the end of the quarter.
Waardenburg also saw his first action midway through the first period, scoring his maiden basket on an and-1 layup to help extend the lead to 26-10. That lead grew to 36-16 by the end of the period, with the Tall Blacks hitting a blistering 12/16 from the field including 4/6 from outside.
Saudi Arabia opened the second with a pair of threes, before a Harrison dunk helped to restore order. A timely triple from Te Rangi extended the lead back out to 21, but it was short-lived as Saudi Arabia again hit back-to-back triples; the visitors building confidence as the game progressed. The play of the quarter belonged to the duo of Fotu and Waardenburg, with Isaac stealing the ball and finding Sam for the two-handed flush on the fast break – part of a 17-0 Tall Blacks run that included eight points from the 6’10” forward.
Taking a 65-33 lead into the third quarter, the Tall Blacks already had four players in double figures with Te Rangi (15), Waardenburg (13), Rusbatch (10) and Fotu (10) all leading the way. Part of Saudi Arabia’s struggles came from early foul trouble, with their imposing centre Mohammed Alsuwailem saddled with four fouls partway through the second period.
The third period continued in a similar manner as the quarters before it, with the Kiwis continuing to build a lead thanks to efforts from both their starters and bench. One standout – and a crowd favourite with his energetic play – was Hyrum Harris, who racked up several assists alongside a block and steal in the period. Rusbatch also resumed his scoring barrage with 11 more points in this quarter, while Harrison dominated inside with a dunk and layup; the home team claiming a 94-47 margin heading into the final quarter.
With the game well in hand, Coach Pero Cameron elected to rest his starters and give the bench an extended run – with Nikau McCullough, Ritchie Rodger and Walter Brown soaking up minutes alongside Harris and Harrison. The Kiwis cooled down somewhat in the final frame, held to 16 points on 7/17 shooting – including a 1/9 effort from beyond the arc that helped Saudi Arabia to keep pace with New Zealand as they scored 16 of their own.
The final quarter was memorable for two reasons; a pair of highlight dunks from Harris that excited the crowd, and hometown player Brown scoring his first Tall Blacks points on a free throw.
The Tall Blacks now turn their attention to their next game, taking on Lebanon in Wellington on Monday 27 February at TSB Arena. Tickets on sale at bbnz.link/trvac
New Zealand 110 – Rusbatch 21 PTS | Waardenburg 17 PTS & 8 REB | Te Rangi 17 PTS & 5 AST | Smith-Milner 14 PTS | Fotu 12 PTS | Harrison 11 PTS | Harris 7 PTS & 7 REB & 5 AST | Ngatai 3 PTS | McCullough 3 PTS | Britt 2 PTS & 9 AST | Rodger 2 PTS | Brown 1 PT
Saudi Arabia 63 – Ashoor 13 PTS | Alsuwailem 11 PTS & 7 REB | Almarwani 10 PTS | Shubayli 9 PTS | Aljohar 8 PTS
Quarter scores: 36-16, 65-33, 94-47, 110-63.
Full box score: http://bbnz.link/8fdfv