The Tall Blacks are playing for a medal at the Asia Cup, but it's not the colour they were hoping for.
A 106-79 semifinal defeat to Australia has ended the Tall Blacks' quest for gold, and consigned them to a bronze medal match against South Korea.
Any hopes of making the final evaporated within minutes, as an abysmal opening saw Australia shoot out to an immediate 22-2 lead. Although the Tall Blacks battled back, a comeback victory was never on the cards, and Australia eventually coasted to a 27 point victory.
Despite the comprehensive semifinal loss, the tournament has still been a success for Paul Henare's young squad; exceeding expectations and displaying New Zealand basketball's ever-increasing depth at the international level.
That success can be further built upon with a bronze medal, and shouldn't be overly diluted by the defeat to a quality Australian side. While Australia also took a predominately local side to the tournament, they still had a roster stocked with ANBL veterans and contributors, compared to a New Zealand side possessing just four (soon to be five) players with full-time ANBL contracts.
That disparity was aptly displayed on the court, where the Tall Blacks were outclassed and overwhelmed by their trans-tasman rivals. Australia had too much height and strength inside, with Matt Hodgson dominant early on, and they were also locked in defensively to start.
For the opening stages, the Tall Blacks were unable to penetrate, forced to persist on a barrage of low-percentage contested long jumpers. As a result, they hit just three shots in the first quarter, trailing 31-10 at the break.
Once again, Shea Ili showed he could foot it against the upper echelons of international basketball, and his second quarter showing dragged the Tall Blacks back to flashes of respectability.
Ili had 14 points and four assists in 17 minutes, as the Tall Blacks briefly got the deficit down to 10, and won the second quarter 23-15.
While the deficit maintained at a manageable level, Ili departed with split webbing which required stitches - an injury which could have an impact on his side's bronze medal prospects. It also ended any hopes of putting pressure on Australia, who continued to enforce their superior size and shooting.
As 19 year old point guard prospect Isaac Letoa was inserted into a baptism of fire, Australia padded their lead back out, putting up 31 third quarter points as the eclectic skills of Jason Cadee and Mitch Creek came to the fore.
Reuben Te Rangi (15 points and six rebounds) and Tohi Smith-Milner (13 points and six rebounds) fought hard for the Tall Blacks, but the game was long gone, with Australia showing why they are the heavy favourites to take out the title.
The Tall Blacks will conclude their debut Asia Cup tournament tomorrow against South Korea when the bronze medal match tips off at 3.30am.