Tall Blacks qualify for Fiba Asia Cup quarterfinals despite loss to South Korea
The Tall Blacks have qualified top of Pool C and booked a quarterfinal berth despite a 76-75 loss to South Korea at the Fiba Asia Cup in Lebanon on Saturday (Sunday NZ Time).
Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare said it never crossed his mind his side needed to stay within two points to reach the quarter finals and they were disappointed not to win.
Henare said there was never any thought of manufacturing a result – with the team able to lose by two points (provided they scored 69 points or more in doing so) and still win the group.
By keeping within two points, Henare's young squad were able to directly qualify for the last eight, with Lebanon's 96-74 win over Kazakhstan confirming a three-way tie-breaker and New Zealand's progression.
In the games between the Tall Blacks, Lebanon and South Korea, New Zealand finished with a plus-three points differential, Lebanon plus-two and South Korea minus-five. Evan a two-point loss to South Korea would have seen the Tall Blacks finish top of their pool, courtesy of their head-to-head win over Lebanon.
With the score tied 75-75 inside the last minute, The South Koreans made one-of-two free throws and Tall Blacks guard Shea Ili ran down the clock for a game-winning shot attempt on the final play, with his runner in the lane rimming out.
"We went through the process as a management team, looking at the different scenarios in a three-way tie. And you can get tied up in those sorts of things, but in the end we decided it was best for us to concentrate on winning that basketball game.
"Fortunately, we had enough in terms of a points split to have the luxury of losing by one or two, hence we played the final possession the way we did, we wanted to win the game on the last shot but we didn't want to give them the ball back and Korea a shot at knocking us out of top spot."
"This whole campaign, experience and tournament is about learning. Learning from the good things but also from the mistakes we make. And we made a couple of crucial errors in that final minute that cost us the game – not that it comes down to those single possessions on their own, but in crucial situations you need to execute on both ends and we let ourselves down there.
The New Zealanders were paced by Derone Raukawa and Finn Delany, with 14 points apiece. Raukawa called upon to play crucial minutes with Shea Ili in some early foul trouble. Sam Timmins and Tohi Smith-Milner provided some size in the paint, and captain Reuben Te Rangi was all over the stat sheet again.
Henare says, as has always been the case throughout Tall Black history, being the underdog is not a bad thing.
"They have more than proven they are capable of competing and winning against quality teams, that is important, but equally it is important to recognise that we are better when we have that edge and possibly the first half tonight, there was not the same atmosphere as two nights ago and possibly not as much riding on the game. But we are better when we have that edge, so we need to find a way of keeping it."
The Tall Blacks will now await the winner of a Round of 16 game most likely between Iran or Jordan and Iraq on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT) in their quarterfinal on Thursday (Friday NZT).
Meanwhile, the Australian Boomers also moved straight into the quarterfinals after completing Pool D play unbeaten with a 90-50 rout of Chinese Taipei on Saturday (Sunday NZT).
South Korea 76 (Lee 16) Tall Blacks 75 (Finn Delany 14, Derone Raukawa 14, Sam Timmins 12, Tohi Smith-Milner). 1Q: 19-17, HT: 41-30, 3Q: 53-57