A heart-breaking loss for the Tall Blacks, who have fallen 74-83 to Greece tonight at the FIBA World Cup, thus ending their hopes of reaching the second round.
After the Kiwis carried an 11 point lead into the second half – at one point stretching it to 15 thanks to a pair of triples from Reuben Te Rangi – Greece’s came out of the locker room with a renewed intensity in the third and promptly mounted a fierce comeback. The Greek’s suffocating defence reduced the gap in the third period to four – holding New Zealand to just 11 points – and then the Greeks caught fire in the final frame as they outscored the Kiwis 33-20.
Shea Ili was electric in the loss, tallying 27 points, 5 rebounds and 8 assists, while Reuben Te Rangi and 19 points on 4-8 shooting from downtown. Finn Delany registered a 10 point, 14 rebound double-double, Jordan Ngatai hit a trio of threes for his nine points, Isaac Fotu with 5 and Yanni Wetzell with 4 points, 8 rebounds and a pair of blocks.
As a team New Zealand outshot their opponents from the field (43% to Greece’s 40%) with the Kiwis hitting 11 triples at a 44% clip; continuing to demonstrate why they are among the best-shooting teams in the competition. But turnovers were the difference on the night, with the Kiwis giving up 21 turnovers – which directly led to 29 points for their opponents – versus 6 by the Greeks.
For Greece, Ioannis Papapetrou was the star with 27 points – including 8 in the pivotal fourth quarter, and fiery guard Giannoulis Larentzakis added 20. Thomas Wallkup had 10 points and 9 assists, while centre Georgios Papagiannis tallied 8 points and 9 rebounds.
Led by Papapetrou and Larentzakis, the Greeks held a massive 50-5 advantage in points off the bench, while also outscoring the Tall Blacks 32-18 in the paint, with 12 of those points coming in the final period.
Following the game, Ngatai reflected on the battle and the effort given by the Tall Blacks squad.
“I’m happy with the boy’s [effort] tonight, we left it all out there on the court and we came in with the right mindset,” says Ngatai.
“Greece are a very talented team and a powerhouse team in Europe and that showed down the stretch. But I’m extremely proud of the boys, we stuck together through some tough moments.”
Ngatai says that Greece came out of the locker room in the second half with a renewed focus, which the Tall Blacks struggled to match.
“Their pressure extended, they had more energy coming out of that half time. I felt like we didn’t handle it well enough as he should’ve – but as the game went on, we found out way through it and started to get out flow together. But it was that initial pressure that they generated [that was the issue].”
Coach Pero Cameron broke down some of the factors that influenced the outcome of the game.
“What stands out hugely is our 21 turnovers, it’s something we’ve addressed in past games and I felt we did a pretty good job early. They were getting too many offensive boards as well, so they were getting too many shots and possessions for them without turnovers – it just made the task a little more difficult in the start of the second half,” says Cameron.
“I felt we rallied, even though we had a double-digit lead we were able to keep it at 5-8 mark going into the third. I think that near the end, both teams were exhausted and the communication was average. There’s a lot of good things to look at, but ultimately we must focus now on tomorrow’s game.”
Although this loss prevents New Zealand from advancing in the second round, its two remaining classification games – against Mexico and Egypt – over the next few days still hold great weight for the Tall Blacks with their Olympic 2024 aspirations. If they can win both games and finish as one of the three highest Asia/Oceania ranked teams in this World Cup, they will be awarded a spot in an Olympic Qualifier series in June next year.
The Tall Blacks face Mexico in a FIBA World Cup Classification game at 8.45pm NZT on Thursday 31 August. Watch live & free on TVNZ Duke (Freeview Channel 6 or Sky Channel 23) or on TVNZ+ at www.tvnz.co.nz
New Zealand 74 – Ili 27 PTS & 5 REB & 8 AST | Te Rangi 19 PTS & 5 REB | Delany 10 PTS & 14 REB | Ngatai 9 PTS | Fotu 5 PTS | Wetzell 4 PTS & 8 REB
Greece 83 – Papapetrou 27 PTS & 6 REB | Larentzakis 20 PTS | Wallkup 10 PTS & 9 AST | Papagiannis 8 PTS & 9 REB | Papanikolaou 8 PTS & 5 REB
Quarter scores: 20-15, 43-32, 54-50, 74-83
Box score: http://bbnz.link/NZLvGRE
Tall Blacks 1st Round Schedule – FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup
New Zealand vs USA – Sunday 27 August, 12.40am NZT (lost 72-99)
New Zealand vs Jordan – Monday 28 August, 8.45pm NZT (won 95-87)
New Zealand vs Greece – Thursday 31 August, 12.40am NZT (lost 74-83)
New Zealand vs Mexico (Classification game) – Thursday 31 August, 8.45pm NZT
New Zealand vs Egypt (Classification game) – Saturday 2 September, 8.45pm NZT