They may have bowed out of the FIBA World Cup in pool play, but the MBO Tall Blacks continued to capture attention in classification play with their up tempo high pace game, this time at the expense of the much higher ranked Turkey, defeating the Europeans 102-101 in a thriller in Dongguan.
The plan under head coach Paul Henare at this tournament was to run at pace, space the floor and create open looks for a team of shooters, ‘bigs’ included. That game plan had earlier forced heavyweights Brazil and Greece to close games but tonight it turned in the Tall Blacks favour with a first ever victory over Turkey, securing a top 20 finish and a shot at the Tokyo Olympic Games repechage next year.
The win was built on a wide reaching offensive effort, with Rob Loe enjoying his best game of the tournament, named man of the match for a display that included one handed put back dunks, three rebounds, four assists and his trademark shooting from deep, ending with 17 points including 3 of 5 from downtown.
The support cast was extensive with Isaac Fotu posting 17 points and 5 boards, and young Finn Delany coming alive for a breakout performance at this level with 12 points and 7 massive rebounds. The power forward found his hops and his confidence in an aerial display that wowed the crowd and quietened the Turks, spending much of this time at altitude above the rim. Tai Webster had 12 points, three boards and three assists while the tournaments leading scorer Corey Webster also had 12 and dished off five dimes as he was often shut down by the Turkish scout.
Head Coach Paul Henare was almost lost for words post-game, describing his immense pride in his entire roster and support team.
“Unreal. I am a little bit lost for words, not just for that result but in the greater scheme of things, what that says about our programme and what we have done throughout this tournament. I am so proud of this team, for their fight and the commitment to play the way we want to play, to be able to do it on this stage is just unbelievable.
“I haven’t looked at the box score yet, but I think we had five or six guys in double figures and a couple of others with nine, we literally had everyone step up and play their roles well. That has been a strength of our group, Corey and Ike have had great tournaments but we needed everyone today and I am really happy for them all.”
Finn Delany was huge for the Tall Blacks, grabbing vital rebounds and dunking at will over the Turks.
“He was amazing, the energy he played with was at a time when we needed it, at a time when we could sense a shift in momentum with the Turkish guys – you could see the fatigue hitting them. He saved his best for last, I am really happy for him.”
Henare was also pleased that the game plan paid dividends, not with a gallant loss, but with a quality win over a quality team.
“It has been a little bit experimental to start with but the way the guys have bought in to way we are playing and for it to come to fruition today on such a big stage – with our Olympic hopes on the line. Let’s not dance around the fact we didn’t achieve our goals but we still had plenty to play for, against a top ten team in the world in what is the first time we have ever beaten Turkey as far as I can remember, there is just so much there.”
Captain Tom Abercrombie was immense, huge on defence as he marshalled his team, and also grabbing six rebounds, three assists and also finding some airtime with many of his 11 points at the rim.
“I am just so proud of the boys, we deserve that finish to the tournament after the earlier close defeats, for all the hard work that everyone has put in and the time away from our families and supporters back home, it is a great feeling.
“On a personal level that means so much to me, I have played Turkey so many times without ever tasting victory, to do so here on the World Cup stage is amazing for us as a team, but also puts us right in the picture to grow from this and compete with the best in the world.”
New Zealand came in with a world ranking of 38 and will officially finish 19th at the tournament with three wins and two losses, as one of four pool winners in the classification stage, with just points differential separating them from other winners Nigeria and Germany – a curious way to decide the rankings of teams that have not played each other, or the same opposition.
They will now turn their attention to Asia Cup qualifying and the Olympic repechage tournaments next June, with venues yet to be decided. 24 teams will play in 4 tournaments, with just the tournament winners booking a place in Tokyo.
- MBO Tall Blacks 102 (Loe 17, Fotu, Delany 12 & 7 rebounds, C Webster 12 & 5 assists, Abercrombie 11 & 6 rebounds & 3 assists)
- Turkey 101 (Osman 32, Mahmutoglu 27)
- FIBA World Cup official website: http://www.fiba.basketball/basketballworldcup/2019
- Tall Blacks news: https://nz.basketball/category/tall-blacks/
- Tall Blacks schedule: https://nz.basketball/national-teams/tall-blacks/schedule/
- Read more about Tū Kaha: https://nz.basketball/the-meaning-of-tu-kaha-and-the-tall-blacks-culture/
- Follow the Tall Blacks’ social media channels: @TallBlacks Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Hashtags: #TuKaha #TallBlacks #FIBAWC