The MBO Tall Blacks bowed out of contention at the FIBA World Cup but showed they very much belong on the world stage alongside the world’s best teams in a 97-103 defeat to the world’s number 8 ranked team containing NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in Nanjing tonight.
The loss leaves the Tall Blacks third in Group F and consigned to fight for placings 17 to 32, with Greece joining Brazil in advancing from the group to the round of 16. But like the close defeat to Brazil, tonight’s defeat was one that highlighted how talented and courageous this team is, taking one of the traditional superpowers to the brink, earning plenty of respect along the way.
Head Coach Paul Henare summed up the mood however, stressing that the belief in the group was strong that they could stand up to the Greeks and win the game.
“We are extremely disappointed that our tournament is ending here, at least in terms of progressing to the next round. That feeling is throughout the dressing room but for me is mixed with immense pride in the way we have played and shown that we belong at this level, contending with the best teams in the world.
“While we have lost both games and feel that we should have won both, we have pushed two teams that have the potential to go very deep in this tournament to the brink, we have just not been able to find that final momentum to get us over the line. Greece is a quality team with some quality players, but I think we can be proud of our contribution to that game tonight and what we have brought to the tournament.”
Led again by the brilliant offence of Corey Webster with a game high 31 points (11 of 18 shooting including 7 of 12 from deep) and all round contributions from Isaac Fotu who posted 15 points in 16 minutes after getting into early foul trouble, Tom Abercrombie who had his best game of the tournament with 18 points and six boards and Tai Webster with 17 points the Tall Blacks never allowed Greece to get away, but equally could never quite maintain momentum to close the gap.
Greece led by 7 at halftime but the Tall Blacks put aside their third quarter blues to close to 5 going into the final quarter, but some hot outside shooting from Greece saw that quickly explode to 12. Rather than accept their fate however, the Tall Blacks fought to the final buzzer, with Corey Webster and Abercrombie draining big triples to keep Greece on edge, but in the end it was not quite enough.
Captain Tom Abercrombie spoke through the intense disappointment of the pride that he had for his team and the way they carried themselves throughout Group play.
“I am just so proud of the team, every one of them. Not many outside did but I can assure you that every player and every staff member had complete belief that we would win this game tonight. Greece is one of the game’s powerbrokers and in Giannis has a star player, but we did not take a backward step and took it to them throughout and in the process our own stars shone just as if not more brightly.
“We just couldn’t recover from what was a poor start and every time we gathered ourselves and made a run, they responded or capitalized on a mistake. This is not about gallant losers though, believe me we are hugely disappointed that we will not progress further in the tournament and feel like that was one that got away, but must now pick ourselves up and finish the tournament strongly in our final two games.”
Indeed there is no rest for the Tall Blacks or time to feel sorry for themselves, with the FIBA dictated schedule allowing for approximately four or five hours of sleep before flying to Shenzen and then a two hour bus journey to Donguan where the New Zealanders will play Japan (in less than 48 hours) and Turkey in classification cross-over games to decide their final ranking.
• MBO Tall Blacks 97 (C Webster 31, Abercrombie 18, T Webster 17, Fotu 15)
• Greece 103 (Antetokounmpo 24, Papapetrou 16)
• 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