The Tall Blacks have taken down China for the second time in a week with a 90-84 victory in Suzhou tonight.
Led by a tour-high 27 points from Tom Abercrombie on 9/14 shooting, the Tall Blacks overcame a whistle-heavy game to come away with a fourth victory in five games on their overseas tour.
Paul Henare's side had earlier thrashed China on Friday night, but the host nation put in a stronger effort in the 3rd v 4th placed playoff at the Atlas Basketball Challenge.
After suffering a 80-65 defeat at the hands of Lithuania Select in the semifinals last night, the Tall Blacks were again slow to get going, falling into a 11-3 hole which extended dangerously to 21-9. Fortunately for the visitors, a spark off the bench by Shea Ili brought the scores back to relative parity.
Ili had eight first-quarter points as he continued to thrive in the role of first guard off the bench, with the Tall Blacks trailing 25-23 at quarter-time.
With the referees calling the game extremely tightly, the Tall Blacks racked up fouls including what seemed like a puzzling flagrant on Ili. However, they were cashing in at the line themselves, going 15/16 from the stripe in the first half.
That, along with strong second quarter showings from Tai Webster and Abercrombie, gave the Kiwis a 48-37 halftime lead.
Foul trouble became the story of the game, with three Tall Blacks fouling out as China cut the deficit to two by the end of the third period, and went ahead early in the fourth.
Some key buckets from Abercrombie and Isaac Fotu regained the lead, and the Tall Blacks held their nerve late to claim the victory.
The consistent Fotu had yet another strong game in the black singlet with 21 points and eight rebounds on 8/13 shooting from the field, while Ili had an international career-best 15 points and five boards.
Tai Webster also performed strongly with 12 points and six rebounds.
The victories over China (twice) and Japan paint a very positive picture of qualifying for future Olympics and World Cups, with the upcoming move into the FIBA Asian Confederation meaning these squads will be regular opposition for qualifying berths.
The squad now have some time off for travel, recuperation and training before getting back into action late next week with games against Iran, Latvia and Lithuania.