Tall Blacks edge South Korea at buzzer in Seoul
A Kirk Penney three-pointer on the final buzzer has snatched a dramatic 71-70 victory for the Tall Blacks over South Korea in Seoul today.
In another patchy performance from Nenad Vucinic's World Cup-bound New Zealand men's team, they had to rely on a little bit of Penney magic at the finish to steal a series-clinching victory.
The Tall Blacks had trailed 70-68 with 12 seconds left, and after Tom Abercrombie air-mailed his triple attempt, the New Zealanders got one last possession with two seconds on the clock.
That was enough time to find Penney on the inbound, with the veteran shooting guard, who'd been pretty quiet hitherto, using a nice ball fake to spring the room he needed. Replays showed Penney's jump shot may have still been in his hands when time was up, but the bucket was awarded.
"It was a great finish for us," said a rapt skipper Mika Vukona after playing his own part with an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double. "There's no better way to finish the game than with the ball in the most trusted hands.
"Kirk was able to up-fake and then get the three off. We'd battled hard the whole game and there was a lot of relief to get the win in the end."
"KP, mate, the up-fake, one dribble and pull up. It felt like 10 seconds watching the ball in the air," added assistant coach Pero Cameron. "It was just him getting that opportunity. We know Kirk knocks down big shots - he's done it so many times."
The win gave the New Zealanders a 3-2 series victory over a pretty competitive Korean outfit after they'd won two out of three in New Zealand and split their two games in Seoul this week.
Vukona said a third win against a gritty, and troublingly quick, opponent had been important as the Tall Blacks search for the confidence and fluidity they need. "These guys never give up and it's a real relief to get the win tonight. There were a lot of things we can be happy about."
Vucinic's men remain a long way from the level they'll need to get to for the World Cup in Spain, and once again turnovers (they had 21), poor ball-handling and some loose finishing at the rim enabled the Koreans to make much more of a game of it than they should have.
The Tall Blacks had looked well in control early as they powered to a 17-10 lead behind 10 first-quarter points from Corey Webster, and extended their advantage to 11 (33-22) by the major break.
But a 28-16 third quarter by Korea, fuelled by a full-court press that the Tall Blacks failed abysmally to deal with, gave the hosts a 50-49 lead heading into the final quarter.
The New Zealanders were playing catchup for most of the final term, but stayed in the hunt mainly thanks to the energy and effort levels of Vukona who made a host of big plays.
Webster led the New Zealand scoring with 13 points, Vukona chipped in with 11 and starting centre Rob Loe added 10. Once again both naturalised Americans, Casey Frank and Nick Horvath, sat out the fixture.
The Tall Blacks now head to China for two tournaments as they continue a 13-game buildup for Spain.
New Zealand 71 (Corey Webster 13, Mika Vukona 11, Rob Loe 10), Korea 70. 1Q: 17-10; HT: 33-22; 3Q: 49-50.