Already outsized and according to some out-ranked, the Tall Blacks lost big man Isaac Fotu early to injury in their Olympic Qualifying Semifinal and yet still pushed Canada to the brink, in the end bowing out of the tournament 78-72 in an enthralling battle.
Qualities such as passion, determination, commitment and fight are trademarks of this Tall Blacks side, they were all on display in abundance but so too was the world class basketball playing ability in a side that was undersized even before the departure of Fotu.
The sides were barely separated throughout, with the Canadians momentarily taking advantage of Fotus departure with an Achilles injury but the Tall Blacks fought back and had the crowd behind them, fighting for their lives in the paint and shooting accurately from deep to tie the scores at 42 at the main break.
The message from Coach Paul Henare was clear at the break, work harder for the next twenty minutes than you have ever worked before, do it for yourselves, for each other and for the black singlet. And work they did, with Abercrombie spending plenty of time at the four spot while Vukona and Rob Loe played the five - until both players would foul out late in the game.
Whether it was that work rate or simply the Canadians finishing the stronger, it was the North Americans who held their nerve down the stretch, assisted by a couple of line calls from the officials that kept possession in their hands at crucial moments.
Henare spoke with great pride about his team in the post-match press conference.
"How we competed out there with a very good Canadian team against some of those mismatches, I dont know. To do what we just did without Ike and to stay with them and push them and compete with them for so long, that is just testament to what we like to call Tall Blacks basketball.
"Dont get me wrong, that group in the dressing room right now is shattered, they are hugely disappointed to lose a game they think they should have won, but that is the strength of this group, they had no doubts, they truly believed we would win this game tonight and then win the final and book our place in Rio.
"Our bigs stepped up, Tommy played some great minutes at the four and our guards did a great job, especially during periods when we were really playing some small ball against a very athletic and capable Canadian team.
"Those on this team that have long futures in the black singlet will take plenty from this tour and it this tournament. They will learn from it and it will stand them in good stead in their careers and enable the Tall Blacks to continue to compete on the world stage. Despite all the odds, despite seemingly always being the underdogs and despite doing most of what we do on a shoestring, this black jersey and the history of who has gone before them just means so much, to all of us, the players, coaches and staff, I cant thank them enough."
Corey Webster led the New Zealand scoring with 21 points on 8 of 18, including 3 of 8 from deep. The Tall Blacks sharpshooter came in for close attention throughout but was close to his world class best in leading the New Zealand offence. He found good support in younger brother Tai (15 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) and Tom Abercrombie whose efficient 16 points included 3 of 5 long range daggers.
Audio with Paul Henare is attached, for audio from Tom Abercrombie please follow the link below. The bulk of the team returns to New Zealand at 10am on Tuesday morning, on NZ80, while some players and coaches disperse to the USA and Australia.
Tall Blacks 72
C Webster 21, T Abercrombie 16, T Webster 15
C Joseph 23, M Ejim 13, T Thompson 13
H/T 42 all
- This story has been automatically published using a media release from Basketball New Zealand