The Tall Blacks lost a last possession game against Iran in Riga tonight, going down 75-72 in a game that they seemed to have in their control for most of the distance, with mental lapses and a ten point final quarter proving costly in the end.
Head Coach Paul Henare rued those lapses in a game he thought had slipped by his team.
"We have just spoken about how we can't afford to lower our intensity, we are simply not a good enough team to have those lapses and expect not to be punished at this level. These are very good teams and they will hurt you if you are not locked in at all times.
"We extended on them a few times in the game but each time we let them back in, the second quarter we conceded 27 points when we had the chance to build further on what we had achieved with a very good start. Then in the final quarter we were outscored 8-2 over the closing five minutes, which we need to address."
The men in black flew out of the blocks - at least defensively as they held the Iranians to just 11 first quarter points while scoring 19 of their own. Isaac Fotu was leading the way for the Tall Blacks, with 12 points including two three pointers and four boards in a busy first period.
By halftime Iran had found their range on the back of that drop in concentration from the Tall Blacks, closing to just five points behind at 38-43 and showing the form that won them the recent Atlas Challenge in China. For the Tall Blacks Corey Webster had 14 points of his 29 game high total and Fotu 12 while Tom Abercrombie had six at the break.
That momentum continued at the start of the second, with Iran taking the lead inside three minutes 47-46, sparking a response from the New Zealanders as they again locked down on defence and extended back out to 58-50 on the back of a quick six points and assist from Corey Webster. But Iran made another run of their own to finish the quarter, with the Tall Blacks leading heading into the final period 62-61.
The final quarter was a much tighter affair, the lead changing with almost every play with neither side able to go on a run significant enough to break the game open. Defensively Abercrombie was walking on egg shells having picked up his fourth late in the third.
In the end though it was Iran who kept their cool in the pressure of the closing moments, making their baskets and watching as the New Zealanders efforts rimmed out or were unable to get a clean shot away. Going into the final quarter shooting 5 of 16 from long range, the Tall Blacks were wide of the mark with all five of their three point attempts in the final quarter and made five turnovers.
New Zealand will now have to respond and must do so quickly as they come up against host nation Latvia in 24 hours' time, a team that will provide an even sterner test than Iran.