Game Preview: Tall Blacks vs Lebanon, Monday 27 Feb, Wellington


Fresh off their 110-63 victory against Saudi Arabia on Friday Night, the Tall Blacks will look to finish their final FIBA World Cup Qualifier (WCQ) game on another high – when they face rivals Lebanon in Wellington on Monday night.

Playing for the first time in Wellington since 2018, the Kiwis will be buoyed by Friday’s strong effort in Christchurch; the Tall Blacks scoring their most points in a game since 2020 on a hyper-efficient 65% shooting from the field, including 46% from outside the arc. Their defence was even more impressive, holding Saudi Arabia to only 22 made shots on 34% shooting and forcing the visitors into 24 turnovers.

The Kiwis will need to replicate this performance – and more – against the Cedars, with both teams currently sitting atop the WCQ Group E division with identical 7-2 records. Although each assured of a place in the FIBA World Cup in August, a win on Monday decides who will sit in first place in this six-team Group E division; a valuable position to be in ahead of the FIBA World Cup seeding draw at the end of April.

A change to the Tall Blacks line-up means that one of its top performers from Friday – who also played in his maiden Tall Blacks game – won’t be suiting up against Lebanon. Sam Waardenburg, who dazzled the crowd with his 17 points and 8 rebounds, has returned to Cairns with Jordan Hunt taking his place in the squad.

The Tall Blacks have plenty of other firepower to cover for Waardenburg’s absence, with forwards Isaac Fotu and Tohi Smith-Milner likely to shoulder any additional minutes and scoring load; Smith-Milner having a solid game with 14 points and a pair of blocks against Saudi Arabia in only 10 minutes, while Fotu pitched in with 12 in his 13 minutes of action. And veterans Ethan Rusbatch (21pts) and Reuben Te Rangi (17 pts) both shot the ball extremely well from downtown, going 8-10 between them.

Although Lebanon is missing some of their star power with Wael Arakji not in this squad, they still bring plenty of weapons into the Wellington game including guard Sergio El Darwich (11ppg, 3.7rpg, 3.7 apg), Amir Saoud (13.6ppg) and Hayk Gyokchyan (8.5ppg, 3.9rpg). Playing against the Philippines on Friday, the Cedars suffered a 96-107 defeat – only their second WCQ loss – with both teams shooting over 50% but Lebanon guilty of 15 turnovers, which the Philippines turned into 29 points.

Saoud top-scored against the Philippines with 27 points on 10/15 shooting, while Gyokchyan scored 21 and El Darwich added 19 and 6 assists; the trio combining to score over two thirds of the Cedars 96 points.

The Tall Blacks will be wary of Lebanon after the Cedars handed them their first loss in World Cup Qualifier play back in November; Lebanon winning 77-65 in front of a Beirut home crowd. That shock loss saw a young Tall Blacks register their lowest scoring output in 8 WCQ games, as the Kiwis shot only 5/27 from beyond the arc and coughed up 25 turnovers. So revenge for this loss will no doubt be on the Kiwi’s minds tomorrow night.

The Tall Blacks face Lebanon at Wellington’s TSB Arena on Monday 27 February from 7pm. Tickets at


Tall Blacks World Cup Qualifier Games, New Zealand

  • Tall Blacks vs Lebanon, TSB Arena Wellington – Monday 27 February
  • Tickets at


Tall Blacks Squad of 12 v Saudi Arabia, Feb 2023

Taylor Britt (14 caps)

Walter Brown, Tasmania Jackjumpers (1 cap)

Isaac Fotu, Utsunomiya Brex (68 caps)

Hyrum Harris, Adelaide 36ers & Hawkes Bay Hawkes (6 caps)

Tyrell Harrison, Brisbane Bullets (3 caps)

Jordan Hunt, Hawkes Bay Hawkes (11 caps)

Nikau McCullough (3 caps)

Jordan Ngatai, Hawkes Bay Hawkes (64 caps)

Richie Rodger, Taranaki Airs (4 caps)

Ethan Rusbatch (44 caps)

Reuben Te Rangi, Southeast Melbourne Phoenix & Auckland Tuatara (52 caps)

Tohi Smith-Milner, Southeast Melbourne Phoenix & Wellington Saints (51 caps)


Lebanon Squad of 12, Feb 2023

Sergio El Darwich

Hayk Gyokchyan

Gerard Hadidian

Jean Marc Jarrouj

Jad Khalil

Marc Khoueiry

Ali Mansour

Ali Mezher

Naim Rabay

Gabriel Salibi

Amir Saoud

Karim Zeinoun