The New Zealand Select team ended their tour of China on a losing note, but not for the lack of trying as they were defeated 73-71 by an import laden Shenzhen team in Zhangshong, China tonight.
With four Americans on board vying to earn fulltime import contracts and a partisan local crowd behind them, the locals were always going to be tough to beat, add in some curious happenings with the game clock and it proved just too much for the young New Zealand side.
Head Coach Pero Cameron spoke with pride after the game, about tonights effort but also about the tour as a whole.
"No one likes losing, it is a horrible feeling and the boys are struggling with that right now. But they can hold their heads up high, we took the game into the final seconds and could - maybe should have won it. But there were some things beyond our control and all I can ask is that the effort was there and that we gave ourselves a shot, and this group certainly did that.
"This tour is about developing our next level of talent, exposing players to international basketball and all the pressure that brings. Tonight was perfect in that regard, with a vocal home crowd, a tough home team and situations that placed our players under extreme pressure, and despite not being on the right side of the score line, I felt we came through that test tonight and on the tour."
The game fired up the moment the team performed a haka for the first time on tour and it was the New Zealanders who started the better, extending to 19-12 in the first quarter before back to back threes brought the margin back to one at the first break.
Finn Delany with a long range three and a dunk on a put back from Yanni Wetzell were amongst the highlights, as were the contributions off the bench from regular starters Derone Raukawa and captain BJ Anthony with five points apiece.
Jordan Ngatai then got hot from outside in the second with back to back triples threatening to break the game open, but the Shenzhen side stayed tough and trailed by five at halftime.
The second half started in curious fashion, with possession with the New Zealanders, a disputed possession saw the shot clock reset in error - but as New Zealand regained the ball the game was stopped to address the problem. With 16 seconds played in the quarter, the officials somehow decided that only 3 seconds would be left on the shot clock - this was a sign of the way things would play out for the remainder of the game.
Heading into the final quarter tied at 56, you always sensed the New Zealanders would need some margin but they just could not find the streak to put the game to bed and take outside factors out of the equation, with turnovers again the biggest issue for an inexperienced lineup.
The timing issues werent quite done though, at 69-67 and with Shenzhen on the free throw line the game clock somehow was allowed to run for ten seconds without interruption, taking the game unwittingly into the final sixty seconds without the ball being in play. But all protests fell on deaf ears and a succession of fouls then put the game beyond the gallant Select team, albeit with the game decided by just the one basket.
Best for the New Zealanders in a committed effort with contributions across the roster were Jordan Ngatai, BJ Antony, and Derone Raukawa - all were in double figures but with no box score produced at the stadium or online, the exact stats might remain a mystery for some time on this one.
But the real value in the tour has been the development of all players and coaches, from 20 year old Yanni Wetzell to 28 year old captain BJ Anthony and every player and coach in between, all came out of the ten days and three games stronger for it and have further deepened the player pool for the mens game in New Zealand as the Tall Blacks contemplate life in the Asian qualifying zone for future FIBA tournaments.
NZ Select 71
Ngatai 15, Anthony 14, Raukawa 11
Shenzhen Leopards 73
H/T 36-31 NZ