The Tall Blacks run at the Atlas Challenge in China has come to an end in the semifinals, beaten 80-65 by a fired up Lithuania team, leaving the New Zealanders to play in the third place playoff on the final day against China.
After marching through group play unbeaten and showing great hustle on defence and sharing the load offensively, tonight was a flat performance in which the Tall Blacks were always behind. The New Zealanders lost the rebound count (31-35) and shot poorly from the three (24%) and defensively couldn't find the answers to stop the Lithuanians, in particular Zelionis who ended with a game high 25 (9 of 14).
Head Coach Pau Henare was left disappointed in an effort that never really got going.
"I definitely thing that was a reality check in terms of where we have been playing, we came up against a quality well drilled side tonight and didn't respond to the challenge well, I thought our start in particular was poor and while we went into the half only a few points down but I thought there were several areas on the defensive end and offensively where for whatever reason we let their changing defences disrupt us where we have actually been pretty good through the first few games. It is a lesson and a good opportunity to realize that we are in for a long run and that we have a bigger goal in mind."
Henare was not concerned about how good the opposition were, for him it was his own team's standards that weren't met on the night.
"It is not necessarily that we are better than them or not, more it is about our own standards. It is hard to keep a high level of play for a long period of time, there are bound to be dips in our play, we responded well in the third quarter and kept grinding away and making plays, I think if we had knocked our free throws in that end of the third quarter we would have put a lot more pressure on them, but we couldn't capitalize and they broke away again."
While bitterly disappointed at being knocked out of the tournament and being left with the playoff for third, Henare says the key is the learnings that can be taken in the context of the long game, that of trying to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games.
"I think the immediate goal is how we respond and what we learn for our game
tomorrow, we will play China or Iran, I can guarantee the China we beat the other night will not be the team we face tomorrow if it is them, but regardless of who we play this is about us and how we bounce back from today's disappointment."
The Tall Blacks will play China at 7pm NZT on Sunday in the third place playoff, before immediately travelling the next day to Europe where they will set up camp in Latvia for ten days in their final preparation before the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila starting on July 5.
Tall Blacks 65 (Fotu 20, C Webster 15, Abercrombie 12)
Lithuania 80 (Zelionis 25, Alijevas 16)
Tall Blacks Touring Party for Latvia and Philippines (name, club/s, position, height, age):
Tom Abercrombie, Pinar Karsiyaka Izmir (Turkish League)/SKYCITY Breakers, Forward, 198cm, 29 years; BJ Anthony, Wellington Saints (NBL), Forward, 198cm, 28 years; Everard Bartlett, Southland Sharks (NBL), Guard, 193cm, 29 years; Isaac Fotu, CAI Zaragoza (Liga ACB), Forward, 203cm, 22 years; Shea Ili, Wellington Saints (NBL)/SKYCITY Breakers (ANBL), Guard, 183cm, 23 years; Michael Karena, Canterbury Rams (NBL)/Wright State University (NCAA), Centre, 208cm, 22 years; Rob Loe, Limburg United (Belgian League), Centre, 211cm, 24 years; Jordan Ngatai, Taranaki MountainAirs (NBL), Forward, 195cm, 23 years; Derone Raukawa, Southland Sharks (NBL), 181cm, 21 years; Guard; Mika Vukona, Supercity Rangers (NBL)/SKYCITY Breakers (ANBL), Forward, 198cm, 34 years; Corey Webster, Supercity Rangers (NBL)/SKYCITY Breakers, Guard, 188cm, 27 years; Tai Webster, Nebraska Cornhuskers (NCAA), Guard, 193cm, 20 years;
Tall Blacks 2016 Road to Rio Schedule
China, SJEC 2016 International Basketball Challenge
19 June, Finals 4pm local time, v China
20 June - depart for Riga, Latvia
26 June, v Iran at Olympic Centre
27 June, v Latvia at Arena Riga
28 June - travel to Lithuania
29 June, 6:30pm v Lithuania, Svyturio Arena
30 June, travel to Manila for FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament
6 July, 9:00pm v Philippines
7 July, 9:00pm v France
8 July, Rest day
9 July, Semifinals TBC
10 July, Final TBC