The MBO Tall Blacks put in a commanding performance at the Energy Events Centre in Rotorua tonight, defeating Hong Kong 124-65 with six players reaching double figures on a night of dunks, blocks and a barrage of three pointers from the hosts.
A near capacity crowd loved every moment of the one-sided romp, even cheering the Hong Kong team’s first basket after the Tall Blacks opened with a 12-point run on the back of a hot hand from Tom Abercrombie who had 12 of the Tall Blacks first 16 points.
Hong Kong were out sized, out muscled and out skilled but never gave up as they continue to find their way in FIBA basketball, showing great heart against their more vaunted rivals.
It gets a whole lot harder very quickly though for the Tall Blacks, who quickly turned their attention post game to Sunday’s clash with China at Spark Arena in Auckland, in what could turn out to be a vital game in their quest for qualification to the FIBA World Cup 2019.
For the home side there were contributions all over the roster, with Abercrombie and Rob Loe scoring 18 points as both drained three’s for fun, Isaac Fotu had 17 points primarily in the post, while Finn Delany (15), Jordan Ngatai (14) and Dion Prewster (11) were big off the bench as the minutes were spread throughout the roster.
Shea Ili had a quiet scoring night but served up 10 assists of the total 38 assists on the night for the men in black, as the ball was shared around at speed.
Head Coach Paul Henare was impressed with that aspect of the performance, but also just pleased to get a game under their belts ahead of the big one against China on Sunday in Auckland.
“That is a crazy high number, I don’t think I have coached a game with those numbers, that is something we have been working on, letting the ball do the work for our team. At the end of the day you still have to put the ball in the hole to get those numbers and we got some good looks and the guys knocked them down, hopefully they can carry that through to Sunday, because we are going to need to knock down some shots then for sure.”
“That was great to get some game wind in the lungs, you can train all you like but there is nothing like getting a game under your belts and running up and down. Also, for them to see the ball go through the hoop was good to, in that respect tonight was good to get those things ticked off.”
Centre Jack Salt impressed with his physicality on return to the national team some five years after his debut as a 17-year-old, with 9 points and 7 rebounds. Salt loved a return to the black singlet but knows Sunday will be much tougher.
“It was awesome, just singing the national anthem, I haven’t done that in a long time, to see the New Zealand flag and actually be singing and not be standing looking at the American flag, it was pretty good just to be representing my home country and it was good to get the lungs going a bit, I haven’t played since March, I am now looking forward to the game on Sunday.
“I have looked up to Mika for a long time, to be out there playing with him and some of the guys I have played with before was a good experience. Isaac (Fotu) is a great player, I have been watching him for a while, he is great to play with.
“This is the first game this group has played together in a game setting, so just getting connections down and reads from other people. There were some slips defensively but we picked up in the second half, there were a lot of positives that we can take into the game on Sunday.”
The Tall Blacks now travel back to Auckland to prepare for Sunday’s game, expected to be played in front of a large crowd (ticket sales approaching 7,000 at the time of writing) at Spark Arena. The game is one of the most significant ever played at home for the national team, against a full strength Chinese team in a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.
MBO Tall Blacks 124 (Abercrombie 18, Loe 18, Fotu 17, Delany 15, Ngatai 14, Prewster 11)
Hong Kong 65