Basketball: Tall Blacks face tall order for Olympic spot

The Tall Blacks' hopes of playing at the 2012 Olympics have taken a major hit.

They have lost their opening game of the Olympic basketball qualifying tournament, falling to Macedonia 84-62 in Venezuela.

Alex Pledger top scored for New Zealand with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Lester McCalebb led the way for Macedonia with 23 points and 11 assists. The Tall Blacks failed to recover from a slow start after going into the second quarter down 26-11.

Macedonia took a 43-29 lead into halftime and led 60-48 at the end of the third quarter.

Nenad Vicinic's side will need to beat African champions Angola tomorrow morning (NZT) to have any chance of progressing to the quarter-finals of the 12-team tournament. They must finish in the top three to earn a ticket to London.

The Tall Blacks have appeared at the Olympics twice, in 2000 and 2004.

Veteran forward Casey Frank, who had five points and eight rebounds, said the fast start by Macedonia gave the Europeans confidence to take control of the game.

"We didn't have the aggressiveness from the start and once they got off to a good start...that gave them a lot of confidence," he said.

The Tall Blacks finished the game with a poor 21 turnovers and shot just 35 percent from the field.

"Our shooting let us down," Franks said. "When you shoot that poor a percentage it's always going to be difficult."

The Tall Blacks face a tall order to reach the next round, needing to make up a 26-point differential against Angola in just a 16-hour turnaround. Angola meanwhile will have a full day rest behind them.

"Obviously it's more difficult but it's the Olympic dream. We're certainly not going to give up on ourselves.

"We go into that game full of confidence. It's going to be difficult. We took a shot to the jaw today but we'll have to quickly recover as we play again within 24 hours," said Franks.

"We're going to have to dig down deep and find a way to get it done."

- HERALD ONLINE

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