Basketball: Tall Blacks make it two from two

Tai Webster, New Zealand Tall Blacks v Belarus. Photo / Photosport
Tai Webster, New Zealand Tall Blacks v Belarus. Photo / Photosport

The Tall Blacks were made to work hard for it, but in the end ground out a comfortable 73-68 win over Japan to make it two from two at the Atlas International Basketball Challenge in China.

Perhaps showing the effects of long days of travel and training, the Tall Blacks were a little sluggish at times against the determined Japanese, who themselves are fighting for places in their roster for their Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia next month.

But the New Zealanders were not making excuses and were focused on nothing short of a win, with Assistant Coach Pero Cameron knowing what it is to grind out a tournament situation.

"You get into a bit of a grind, you train, you do video, you eat, sleep and you play a game, and these are tough games. Japan has some great shooters and at times we struggled to shut them down, they are in the same situation as us going to an Olympic Qualifying tournament and are desperate to win. This is the third time we have played them now, with two scrimmages and now a tournament game with neutral refs, that familiarity can make it tougher as well. But importantly we found a way to win, with some big plays down the stretch from Ike (Fotu) and Tai (Webster), the players lifted and I thought always had it under control.

"But we will keep our heads down and tomorrow we go to work again with a big game against China and another chance to improve and get better towards our only goal on this tour, to qualify for Rio at the tournament in Manila."

Corey Webster led all scorers with 19 points on 8 of 22 shooting and chimed in with 5 assists, he was well supported by Isaac Fotu (15 points and 12 rebounds), Tai Webster (11, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) and Shea Ili (10).

The Tall Blacks raced out of the blocks to an early 21-10 lead but Japan went on a run of their own to trail at the first break by just 5 points and then closed the margin further to just one point at halftime.

While the focus was on the win, Coach Henare was also looking at different combinations and at one point had Tai Webster, Shea Ili and Corey Webster on the floor together, with Ili in particular growing in maturity and confidence at every outing and relishing the responsibility of directing the national team.

Finn Delany debuted from the bench, contributing 2 points and 2 boards in just over five minutes, while Derone Raukawa was suited up but did not see court time in what was a close battle for the majority of proceedings.

The Tall Blacks won the rebounding count 38-35 against a much taller opposition and kept turnovers down to a respectable 10, after conceding 24 the night before in the big win over Belarus.

The final word from Cameron was on behalf of the team as they sent their best wishes to the Tall Ferns in France as they contemplate a must win game against Cuba in their own Rio qualifier.

"We are soon to go through what the girls are doing right now, we are right behind them and will be watching for the result first thing in the morning our time, knowing that not only can they defeat Cuba, but that they have the belief and ability to qualify for Rio, we wish them all the best of luck."

- NZ Herald

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