Tall Blacks edged by Korea in second game
Tall Blacks coach Nenad Vucinic probably learned more from the fallibilities of his side at Mount Maunganui tonight than he did from their success two days' previous.
After winning the opening game of the three-test series against the visitors 102-69 in Wellington on Tuesday night, the New Zealand men's side lost 76-75 to South Korea as part of their build-up programme to next month's World Cup in Spain.
To ensure all of the squad of 16 got game-time during the series, the hosts rested Nick Horvath, Josh Bloxham and teen sensation Tai Wynyard from their squad and brought in Casey Frank, Jack Salt and Tohi Milner-Smith, while Isaac Fotu was ruled out late through illness.
The visitors were extremely active on defence early - despite two three-pointers from NZ shooting guard Kirk Penney - but their lack of size in comparison to the Tall Blacks almost immediately put them in foul trouble.
New Zealand were in the bonus from the free-throw line after less than three minutes, but they couldn't utilise the advantage of making extra trips to the charity stripe as the underdogs grabbed a 22-18 lead at the end of the first quarter.
While they still suffered from mismatches under the basket, South Korea often nullified that with quick hands on defence, while their movement on offence helped them stretch their lead to eight points early in the second quarter as Vucinic tried to find a five that could be effective at both ends.
The combination of Corey Webster (at point guard), Penney, Thomas Abercrombie, Benny Anthony and Casey Frank helped the Tall Blacks draw back from 28-20 down to push back into the lead, and with prolific domestic scorer Webster prominent, the hosts went to the halftime break up 40-38.
Frank started the third quarter with usual starting centre Alex Pledger sidelined with a foot injury, as South Korean coach Jae Hak Yoo opted to run most of his bench.
They hung close to the hosts and when it looked like the Tall Blacks may push their lead to double-digits late in the period, South Korea clawed their way back to trail just 60-58 after Webster's buzzer-beater.
Vucinic started the final quarter with rookies Tai Webster and Tohi Milner-Smith on court, but with naturalised forward Tae Jong Moon proving a handful for the Tall Blacks' defence, South Korea led by four with less than seven minutes to play and the crowd sensed a large upset looming.
A Mika Vukona put-back kept New Zealand in the contest, leaving them needing a three to force overtime but Penney's shot rimmed out with 11 seconds left.
The hosts got the ball back and Penney looked to have tied the game with seconds left, but his shot was ruled a two rather than a three, with a toe on the line.
The final test will be played at the North Shore Events Centre on Saturday night.
South Korea 76 (Tae Jong Moon 21) Tall Blacks 75 (Corey Webster 20, Kirk Penney 19). 1Q: 23-18, HT: 38-40, 3Q: 59-60.