The Tall Blacks' World Cup campaign has hit crisis point after plunging to a near-fatal Group C 76-63 defeat this morning against the Dominican Republic.
The flat New Zealand basketballers never managed to reproduce the fire they showed in the previous day's 76-73 defeat to highly-favoured Turkey, and paid the price as they sunk to 0-2 after two days of group play at Bilbao's Bizkaia Arena, Spain.
With the NBA stars of the United States (NZT 3.30am Wednesday) among their remaining three opponents after tomorrow's rest day, the Tall Blacks would have to defeat both Ukraine (NZT 1am Thursday) and Finland (NZT 1am Friday) after that to have any hope of qualifying for a fourth straight appearance in the knockout round.
It looks a long shot at best.
The New Zealanders never managed to put the brakes on the scoring of Dominican NBA star Francisco Garcia who torched them for a game-high 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting and five-of-seven from beyond the arc.
Tom Abercrombie found his best form after an indifferent effort against the Turks and led the New Zealand effort with 22 points and four rebounds, while Kirk Penney added 16 points and Mika Vukona 11 in a scoring effort that lacked much in the way of support.
This was always going to be a tough turnaround for the Tall Blacks, given the deflating nature of their near miss against the Turks just 18 hours earlier.
Somehow, they needed to park that and recapture the verve and drive they showed through the first three-and-a-half quarters against the world's No 7 side.
The first half reflected the difficulty of that task, with the Dominicans taking a 34-27 lead into halftime as the New Zealanders shot poorly (33 per cent from the floor and just two-of-13 from deep) and fell behind on the back of a 13-0 second-quarter run by the Caribbean nation.
A red-hot Abercrombie was a one-man show in the first quarter for the Tall Blacks as he scored 13 of their 16 points on a sizzling five-of-seven shooting, and Vukona and Penney showed flashes of their abilities in the second. But there was a general flatness about the Tall Blacks that suggested a switch needed to be flicked at the break.
The previous night's star, Corey Webster, also couldn't find any rhythm at all through the first twos periods as he went scoreless on five shot attempts. Worryingly, the Tall Blacks had just four scorers in the first half, including Rob Loe's solitary free-throw.
Things got better in the third as the New Zealanders closed the deficit to just a single point (50-51) at the final break behind a 10-point outburst from Penney and another nine to Abercrombie's tally.
But it was the Dominicans who came out with the greater urgency in the closing quarter and as Garcia continued to pour in the points, and his team-mates able to ride his confidence, the lead grew to double figures and the Tall Blacks found themselves looking up out of a very deep hole.
Dominican Republic 76 (Francisco Garcia 29, Jake Martinez 12) Tall Blacks 63 (Tom Abercrombie 22, Kirk Penney 16, Mika Vukona 11). 1Q: 14-16, HT: 34-27, 3Q: 51-50
Marc Hinton travelled to Spain with the assistance of Basketball New Zealand.
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