The Tall Blacks notched up their first win at the Kunshan International Basketball Championships tonight, tipping over the previously unbeaten Angolan team to end the first phase of the tour on a high, controlling the entire game to win 72-64.
It was a continued improvement from this young side, following a first up loss to China and a nail biting defeat to Lithuania on the buzzer, Paul Henare’s fresh looking Tall Black team showed they are quick learners, and were never headed in a game against the tournament favourites.
Henare said the start was crucial.
“We got off to a really good start. Angola seemed to be lacking a bit of energy and urgency early and we did a good job of capitalizing on that. Derone came off the bench and was a good spark and got the scoreboard ticking over, but getting off to a good start was huge for us and for our confidence.”
Raukawa posted eight quick points in the first half and with centre Sam Timmins chiming in with six points and three boards and the team shooting four of 13 from deep, the Tall Blacks were perhaps more comfortable than the 34-29 halftime score suggested.
Despite that, Henare gave his team a halftime dressing down for what he described as loose play that was ‘not Tall Blacks basketball’.
“We were playing some good basketball but letting ourselves down by being sloppy with the ball. It is a constant work on for us, 18 turnovers we are on the way down, but that number is still far too high. We will continue to look at that and make steady improvements like we have throughout the tournament.”
Without doubt though Henare was delighted to see his young charges control the game and resist numerous runs from the experienced Angolans, with everyone playing their part at crucial moments. From Jordan Ngatai’s corner three to end the third quarter, to Tohi Smith-Milner’s back to back long-range bombs in the final quarter and crucial boards from the bigs’, this was a team effort.
“I am extremely happy and proud of the boys to beat Angola, this is their full-strength team and they have some serious talent and unbelievable experience with five or six guys that have been to multiple world championships and probably Olympics as well. For our young group to perform against a side like that was very impressive.
“They are starting to understand the level of play they need to be at, that every minor mistake gets punished. They are figuring that out and growing in confidence, everyone that played off the bench had a positive input into the game and that is what we are going to need, to play by committee at the Asia Cup, that is what we will continue to ask of the team.”
Henare took a moment also to look at where his team is at and remind them of the work they still need to do, with three more games in Chengdu this week before flying to Beirut.
“I think we are about halfway, the camp back home and now the first tournament here. For us it is about enjoying this win, that is important to celebrate it for what it is. For five of our players it is their first win as tall Blacks, so we will enjoy it. But tomorrow we get on the bus and the plane and head to the next game and continue to grow and develop as a team.”
Those five players picking up their first win were Sam Timmins, Isaac Letoa, Dyson King-Hawea, Luke Aston and James Hunter.
The team now travels to Chengdu for a further tournament, playing Lithuania, Angola and China Red in their final games before the FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut, from August 8.
Tall Blacks 72
Ili 16 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals; Smith-Milner 13 points, 4 rebounds; Ngatai 11 points, Raukawa 10 points, Timmins 6 points, 10 rebounds, Te Rangi 4 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists
Moore 17; Pau 15; Olim 10