The world number three ranked team Lithuania bared its teeth in an 88-58 win over the Tall Blacks in Kleipeda tonight, the score line reflecting the better team but not the difference between the two, with the Tall Blacks showing great fighting spirit on a night when the calls and shots just didnt go their way.
In what was the final preparation game ahead of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila next month, Head Coach Paul Henare spoke of his pride in the attitude of his side, albeit tinged with disappointment at the result.
"I am proud of that group tonight, not for losing, we never like to lose and we went into this game with the mindset of winning against a quality side. But what I saw gives me heart for Manila and I have no doubt that with the same intensity paired with clearer heads and our shots dropping, we can defeat the Philippines on July 6."
Swingman Tom Abercrombie reflected on a tough night against world class opposition.
"Credit to Lithuania, they played hard and played some great basketball. But I am not sure the score reflects the difference on the night, it certainly doesnt reflect upon the effort the boys put in. The shots just werent falling but we stayed aggressive and while the calls didnt perhaps go our way as they might have, we never lost that aggressive mindset."
The Tall Blacks found themselves behind 8-0 in the opening two minutes but responded with an 8-0 run of their own to level it up but such was the nature of the game, Lithuania always seemed to have another run in them to extend each time the New Zealanders drew close.
After trailing 28-12 at the end of the first, the New Zealanders closed to just 8 points behind midway through the second, but again Lithuania had another gear and pulled away in the closing minutes, albeit the quarter was shared 21 all to leave the score 49-33 at the main break.
The home side shot the ball at 63% in the first half and 50% from deep, with Girdzionas and Kusminskas Mindaugas in particular with the hot hands, both shooting 6 of 8 from the field. By contrast the Tall Blacks were shooting at just 35% from the field and made just 3 of ten from deep.
The effort areas were there though, with the undersized Kiwis leading the rebound count 22-15, with captain Mika Vukona leading the way with six, including five offensive boards in a trademark effort from the number seven.
The third quarter was a continuation of the second with the two teams going toe to toe and shot for shot, with the Lithuanians only edging the quarter in the final moments to extend to 66-47. Again the Tall Blacks were throwing everything at the home side, but each time they mounted a run, the class of the Lithuanians shone through with their response.
The final quarter saw that physical effort take a toll, with the Lithuanians extending further to round out comfortable winners 88-58, deserving winners but a score line that flattered one of the best sides in the world nonetheless.
Tall Blacks 58
T Webster 16, Abercrombie 14, Fotu 8/8, Vukona 7/8
G Mindaugas 16, K Mindaugas 12, Edgaras 12