The Tall Blacks have finished their World Cup campaign on a high, recording a first victory over Turkey 102-101 overnight in China.
The result ensures the Paul Henare coached side finished on top of Group O of the classification section, and with it, a spot at the repechage Olympic qualifying tournaments next year.
Having spoken pre-game about the chance to create history, Henare couldn’t control his emotion after the final buzzer, as the realisation of what his side had achieved set in, “just to be able to check that box and do that with an awesome bunch of people was just a little bit of relief - and yeah, I wanted to let out a little bit of excitement and let the guys know that that was a big, big moment,” he said after the game in Dongguan.
While Henare, and assistant coach Pero Cameron played in the 2002 World Cup where New Zealand finished 4th, he says the current crop have achieved some special things in China, “we've dome some great things as a team in past World Cups, but I'm not too sure if we've ever finished a World Cup with a winning record.”
Last night’s victory was their third of the tournament, to see them leave China with a 3-2 record. That record could have been even more impressive save for their recurring third quarter stumbles against Brazil and Greece. Henare is proud of his squad, particularly as they started ranked 38th in the world, and played three top 20 teams, “we've had individual stand out performances, and what we've done is try and get the guys to embrace a new way of playing, a new style,” he says.
That style on play saw the Tall Blacks play a high tempo game that stretched the opposition defences, and provided space for their shooters. The Tall Blacks scored an average 99.4 points per game, which sees them top the ladder.
Rob Loe, who scored 17 points against Turkey, says ‘it's a fun style of basketball, free flowing putting points on the board and it's fun to watch, it's fun to play.”
The high tempo style of play caught some of the better international teams off guard, and 18th ranked Turkey were no different Turkey. Despite having Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Cedi Osman lead all scorers with 32 points, and containing 2 other NBA players, and a host of Euroleague players, the Turks could not contain the determined Kiwi side.
“We sort of ended up wearing them down with our pace, and our intensity and obviously we needed every last minute of the game to make that break through,” Henare says, “it was also a game I think where we had massive contribution across the board, guys coming in having big impacts on the game.”
No fewer than 6 Tall Blacks recorded double figures against Turkey, with Loe and Isaac Fotu both scoring 17, Tai Webster, brother Corey and Finn Delaney picking up 12 points each and captain Tom Abercrombie contributing 11. Two others, Shea Ili and Tohi Milner-Smith both picked up 9 points.
- Tall Blacks 102 (R Loe 17, I Fotu 17, F Delany 12, C Webster 12, T Webster, T Abercrombie 11)
- Turkey 101 (C Osman 32, M Mahmutoglu 27)