The Tall Blacks have fought off a furious fourth-quarter comeback by Jordan tonight, earning a tough 95-87 overtime win at the FIBA World Cup – and in the process, keeping their Second Round hopes well alive.
After carrying an eight point lead into the final quarter, Jordan stormed back late in the period; led by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who hit a three pointer plus the foul with 10 seconds left to tie the game in dramatic fashion. Undaunted, the overtime period belonged to New Zealand as they outscored Jordan 10-2 in extra time to seal their first World Cup 2023 win.
Izayah Le’afa led the Kiwis with 23 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals off the bench, hitting 4-8 from downtown – including a dagger three in overtime. Shea Ili was also dominant with his 15 points & 10 assists, while Finn Delany scored 11 of his 14 points in the first quarter.
Yanni Wetzell added 13 points & 6 rebounds on 6-9 shooting, Isaac Fotu 11 & 5 and Jordan Ngatai also with 9 points on 3-4 shooting from outside the arc; Reuben Te Rangi added 7. As a team New Zealand hit 13-25 on threes at an impressive 52% clip, registering 22 assists on 33 made shots and limiting their turnovers to 15 on the night.
They held off an aggressive Jordan squad down the stretch, led by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s 39 points and 9 rebounds. The ex-NBA forward hit 50% from the field and 14/18 from the free throw line, but also racked up 6 of Jordan’s 18 turnovers on the night. He was supported by point guard Freddy Ibrahim who had 22 points & 9 assists, while centre Ahmad Dwairi had a 19 point, 10 rebound double-double.
The two team’s different playing styles were evident in the statistical column, with Jordan shooting 52% inside the arc and scoring nearly half their points in the paint, while the Kiwis relied on superior outside shooting – their 52% mark from three actually higher than their overall field goal percentage (47%).
The quarter began with Jordan drawing first blood, but it was Delany who caught fire early – scoring all of New Zealand’s eight points in the first three minutes, including a pair of corner threes. Ili also dominant in in the opening minutes, having a hand in all of the Tall Blacks first four baskets before picking up his second foul on a charge attempt.
Another triple by Delany put New Zealand up 15-10, with Le’afa nailing back-to-back triples to help squash the beginnings of a Jordan run. The Kiwis went 5-7 from downtown in the opening quarter, with dominant efforts by Le’afa (8 points) and Delany (11 points) helping the Tall Blacks to head into the break with a 21-18 lead.
Led by Hollis-Jefferson, Jordan began closing the gap in the second period; his back-to- back dunks bringing them to within two and forcing a New Zealand timeout. The Tall Blacks took back control thanks to a couple of timely threes from Ngatai, following by an impressive sequence from Wetzell; the 6’10” centre with a steal and dunk, followed shortly after by an and-1 play under the basket to extend New Zealand’s lead to 10. Another three from Le’afa and a sweet dish to Cameron in the corner for a triple, and the Tall Blacks headed into the half with a nine point lead.
The Kiwis had plenty to smile about heading into the second half; shooting 9/16 from downtown at a 60% clip, limiting their turnovers with just 5 in the half while forcing Jordan into 10 miscues and 2/11 shooting from distance.
Both teams traded outside shots to begin the third quarter before Jordan went on a 6-0 run to reduce the lead to five – back-to-back buckets inside from Fotu putting lead back to nine. Ili made an and-1 jumper with 20 seconds left, which gave the Kiwis a 65-87 lead at the break.
The Tall Blacks started strongly in the final quarter, with Le’afa finding Reuben Te Tangi for a corner three to extend the Kiwi’s lead to 12. But a 9-0 run by Jordan, including 7 straight from Freddy Ibrahim and a dunk by Hollis-Jefferson, narrowed the gap to just a single point for Jordan with five minutes left.
A Wetzell dunk put New Zealand up by five with 38 seconds left, but Hollis-Jefferson took over at this point – hitting all his free throws after being fouled on a three point attempt, then making a miraculous 4-point play with ten seconds left to tie the score at 85 all. Jordan outscored NZ 28-20 in the fourth, with Hollis-Jefferson scoring 13 in the quarter – including nine straight in the final minute as he willed his team to overtime.
But the overtime period belonged to New Zealand, with a steal and triple from Le’afa giving the Tall Blacks a three point lead; that was soon extended to 6 by an and-1 driving layup by Ili. The Kiwi defense was dominant when it was needed most, holding Jordan to 0-7 shooting from the field in OT (their two points coming on free throws). With the 95-87 win in hand, Coach Cameron looked back on a gritty win against a tough opponent.
“We knew it was going to be tough as we always have tough games against Jordan – they’ve got a great couple of players who played exceptional tonight so I’m grateful to get the win in overtime. I would have loved to have got the win earlier, but it is what it is,” says Cameron.
“There’s no easy games for us, especially at this level; we accept all challenges in front of us and will come out fighting [against Greece].”
Le’afa gave praise to both the coaching staff and Tall Blacks continued poise during the game.
“Obviously it was an overtime game, and I think we just trusted in the things that we did; the preparation that the coaches gave us in the scouting, and the five weeks that we built together kind of led to these moments,” says Le’afa.
“This is a World Cup so we know anything can happen, we just dug deep and believed in ourselves and got the job done. We believe in ourselves and that coach will have us ready, [the next game against Greece] is obviously win or go home – so come Wednesday night we’re looking forward to that battle and we’re excited.”
Next up is a clash with Greece on Thu 31 August at 12.40am, with the winner of this game proceeding to the Second Round of the FIBA World Cup. Watch live & free on TVNZ Duke (Freeview Channel 6 or Sky Channel 23) or on TVNZ+ at www.tvnz.co.nz
New Zealand 95 – Le’afa 23 PTS & 5 REB & 5 AST | Ili 15 PTS & 10 AST | Delany 14 PTS & 5 REB | Wetzell 13 PTS & 6 REB | Fotu 11 PTS & 5 REB | Ngatai 9 PTS | Te Rangi 7 PTS | Cameron 3 PTS
Jordan 87 – Hollis-Jefferson 39 PTS & 9 REB | Ibrahim 22 PTS & 9 AST | Dwairi 19 PTS & 8 REB |
Quarter scores: 21-18, 46-37, 65-57, 85-85, 96-87
Box score: http://bbnz.link/NZLvsJOR
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