The New Zealand Select team couldn't sustain a strong opening quarter in the opening game of their tour of China, going down 83-68 against Montenegro in Longang in the Shenzhen province on Wednesday night.
The inexperienced New Zealand team came out hot, leading 21-9 at the end of the first quarter, a lead that could have been greater but for wayward efforts from the free throw line. Finn Delany was the light to the match for the Kiwis, making threes, dunking through traffic and pulling down boards.
Montenegro found their range though while the Kiwis struggled for chemistry in the second quarter and on the back of some impressive long range shooting especially, the Europeans took the lead into the main break, 36-31.
The start of the second half looked like the game had swung back again, with an 11-2 run by the New Zealanders edging them back into the lead. Derone Raukawa and BJ Anthony were at the heart of much of that good work, with the captain trying to inspire his team mates and Raukawa driving the lane to good effect.
But a three point hailstorm to match anything that the humid Chinese weather could throw at them soon rained down and had the New Zealand Select team well behind on the scoreboard. The final five minutes of the third quarter saw the lead blow out to 15, with the close-outs coming too late from the men in black.
The game needed a run from the New Zealanders to start the final quarter to make a match of it, but try as they might turnovers and poor execution would cost them, in the end the Kiwis gifted possession to the opposition 22 times and could only shoot 16 of 27 from the charity stripe.
Head Coach Pero Cameron was not hiding behind the inexperience of his side, he felt it was a shot at an international scalp that had slipped away.
"We made everything we put up early and executed well but we went on a slippery slide in the second quarter and couldn't fight through the toughness of the battle. That is what happens in those situations, you have to make adjustments - the other team is not going to let you just have it. There was some pleasing stuff but it was disappointing to lose and a disappointing performance.
"I thought we saw some good stuff from young Yanni - he injected his energy into the game when he came on and I think Finn had a very good first half. Defensively as a team the energy wasn't there though, the execution suffered after that. There were some pleasing aspects but I don't really want to focus on that in what was otherwise an average performance.
"We can fix a lot of it, defensively we need to make some adjustments and on offence we need to execute better in tough parts of the game. We need to do the right things at both ends of the court, but we will be better for our next game after this first hit out."
Delany had 17 points (5 of 7 shooting) and 8 boards in an all court effort, and shot 6 of 8 from the line. BJ Anthony led all scorers with 20 and Raukawa finished with 16, while young big Yanni Wetzell showed his potential in patches, with an efficient 8 points on 4 of 6 shooting with some nice touches at the rim.
The New Zealanders lost Brook Ruscoe early in the game to a left ankle sprain, reducing the guard options open to the coaching staff. The injury will be assessed again in the morning to ascertain how serious it is, with the New Zealanders to play again on the 22nd, against the loser of tonight's other match between Cameroon and the local Shenzhen Leopards invitation side.