Game Recap: Tall Blacks vs Mexico, FIBA World Cup 2023

The Tall Blacks have lost a fierce battle to Mexico in their first FIBA World Cup Classification game, falling 100-108 to the South Americans.

With only a 20-hour turnaround from their battle with Greece, the Kiwis struggled early against their well-rested opponents and started the game flat. Mexico grabbed a 48-34 lead on the strength of their hot shooting – a blistering 9/15 from outside – and a late fourth quarter comeback reduced New Zealand’s deficit to four thanks to the heroics of Reuben Te Rangi and Finn Delany.

But New Zealand were unable to snatch the come-from-behind win in the closing minutes, dropping to 1-3 in this World Cup and putting their Olympic 2024 hopes in jeopardy.

Reuben Te Rangi led the Kiwis with a scorching 32 points on 6-9 shooting from downtown, while Finn Delany had 19 points (5-12 from outside) and Shea Ili had another strong effort with 18 points and 10 assists. Yanni Wetzell added 9 & 4, while Isaac Fotu added 8 & 5.

For Mexico, Pako Cruz was invaluable with his 27 points on 6/9 shooting from beyond the arc, along with 5 assists. Fabián Jaimes had 17 points, 11 rebounds (6 offensive) and 7 assists, while Gabriel Girón and Joshua Ibarra had 16 apiece.

Coming into this game, Mexico ranked as the 2nd-worst scoring team in the World Cup at just shy of 70 points per game, while hitting 29% from downtown. But that changed dramatically in this one, as the Mexicans racked up 108 points on 51% shooting, including 14/25 (56%) from beyond the arc. With six players scoring in double figures, Mexico led the game from the two-minute mark and never looked back.

New Zealand also did well in the scoring column, hitting 17 threes at a 41.5% clip, while also limiting their turnovers to 14 – well down on the 18 miscues averaged coming into this game. But they struggled with their rebounding, giving up 16 offensive boards, and in protecting the paint; Mexico with a massive 46-26 advantage in the paint thanks to clever passing and penetration to the hoop.

With Mexico leading by 19 midway through the third, the Kiwis did well to reduce the deficit to 10 thanks to a 9-0 run that featured triples by Ngatai and Ili; the latter scoring 11 straight points at one point to keep New Zealand within striking distance.

In the pivotal fourth, it was Delany who stepped up first with a pair of triples to reduce the deficit to six points, then Te Rangi caught fire in the final minutes – scoring 11 straight, including three triples – to bring the Kiwis to within four with a minute remaining. But Mexico kept their cool, as Cruz sunk a dagger three with 29 seconds left and Girón sealed the win with a pair of layups.

Tall Blacks coach Pero Cameron says that the team has to focus on the next game and their goal in this competition – a place in the Olympic Qualifier event in June 2024.

“We’ve still got another game, and our focus on recovery is right now the next 12-14 hours, and also coaches are going into looking at the [Egypt] game. We’ve got to put this game aside now and flush it,” says Cameron.

“I just want to acknowledge that we may have been a little flat but Mexico played really well and shot the s#%t out of it so hat’s off to their coach and their group for hanging tough with it. We’ve gotta move onto the next game, there’s no easy games at the World Cup and we next play in a day and a half – so we must turn around and play better. We’re still playing for something, we’re playing for a bid at the qualifiers which is important for us.”

Te Rangi says that the team’s short turnaround between games cannot be used as an excuse for the loss.

“From a player perspective yes it’s really difficult, but no-one cares if you’ve played a game 16 hours before this one; we knew what we were coming into tonight, and the effort and energy we usually bring just wasn’t there,” says Te Rangi.

Next up: the Tall Blacks square off against Egypt on Saturday 2 September at 8.45pm NZT, with a win keeping their chances of earning an Olympic Qualifier spot alive. Watch this game live & free on TVNZ Duke (Freeview Channel 6 or Sky Channel 23) or on TVNZ+ at



New Zealand 94 – Te Rangi 32 PTS | Delany 19 PTS | Ili 18 PTS & 5 AST & 10 AST | Wetzell 9 PTS & 4 REB | Fotu 8 PTS & 5 REB | Ngatai 5 PTS | Le’afa 5 PTS & 6 AST | Smith-Milner 3 PTS | Harris 1 PT & 8 REB

Mexico 73 – Cruz 27 PTS & 5 AST | Jaimes 17 PTS & 11 REB & 7 AST | Girón 16 PTS | Ibarra 16 PTS & 7 REB | Stoll 14 PTS & 8 AST

Quarter scores: 22-32, 41-57, 68-78, 100-108

Box score:


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 (lost 100-108)

New Zealand vs Egypt (Classification game) – Saturday 2 September, 8.45pm NZT