Former NBA centre Wang Zhi Zhi scored the game-winning basket on a lay-in at the buzzer as the Tall Blacks fell in heartbreaking fashion to China 63-62 in Luoyang.
Leading by 13 points going in to the fourth quarter in their second tour game, New Zealand gave it all back, then took the lead on a Tom Abercrombie three-pointer with 10.5 seconds remaining but could not deny the hosts on the final possession.
Tall Blacks coach Nenad Vucinic would have been pleased with the first three quarters from his young and inexperienced side.
The fourth quarter, not so much.
On the back of aggressive defence - denying passes up top and switching on all screens - the Tall Blacks held China to 29 points in the first half and just 40 points through three periods, when they lead 53-40.
However, as they tired and China began handling the New Zealand pressure - and aided by some curious home calls down the stretch - the gap quickly closed. The Tall Blacks started settling for outside jumpers and those shots that were falling in the first three quarters no longer were.
China scored eight of the first 10 points of the period to close within seven, then piled on an 11-2 run as New Zealand's inexperienced showed and the offence dried up. The hosts hit the front, 59-57, with 1:38 to play, their first lead since 2-0.
Mika Vukona tied the scores with a put-back with 1:22 remaining but China regained the lead 12 seconds later on a drive to the hoop. After two empty possessions, Abercrombie curled off a down-screen to hit what looked like the game-winning three.
Earlier, some hot outside shooting by the likes of Corey Webster, Reuben Te Rangi and BJ Anthony saw New Zealand lead by as many as 17 points. At one point in the third period, New Zealand were 7-of-10 on three-point attempts.
But like their tour opening 79-67 loss to China, when they also lead by 17 points, the lead started to disappear in the third period. China scored 10 straight points to close the gap to seven before Webster arrested the slide.
New Zealand started hot, scoring eight straight points after China scored the game's first basket and leading 13-3 midway through the opening quarter. Vukona had eight points in the first.
The Tall Blacks now travel to Shenzen for a four-team tournament, starting Sunday night (NZ time) against Cameroon, with games also against Dalian (China) and Missassauga Power (Canada) on back-to-back-to-back nights.
As he did in the first test two nights ago, Webster led all scorers with 19 points, including 4/8 from the arc. Captain Mika Vukona scored 12 points, while Anthony was 3/3 3pt for his nine points.
As a team, the Tall Blacks shot 9/16 from afar and out-rebounded their rivals 25-15, restricting them to just one offensive rebound.
But they again paid dearly at the free-throw line, where China outscored them 15-5.
This was the hosts’ final outing before attempting to defend their FIBA Asia title in Manilla next month, while the Tall Blacks travel to Shenzhen for a four-team tournament that starts with a clash against Cameroon on Sunday.
The eight-game tour of China is preparation for the FIBA Oceania Championship home-and-away series against Australia, beginning at the North Shore Events Centre on August 14.
China 63 New Zealand 62 (Corey Webster 19, Mika Vukona 12, BJ Anthony 9, Casey Frank 6, Reuben Te Rangi 5, Tom Abercrombie 5, Everard Bartlett 2, Jack Salt 2, Jordan Ngatai 2). 1Q: 9-18, HT: 20-35, 3Q: 40-53.
- © Fairfax NZ News