The Tall Blacks have played out a thriller with host nation Australia in pool play at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games but have ultimately come up short in the final few minutes, going down 71-79 to the Boomers.
In front of a capacity crowd, this was always going to be the game of the tournament to this point, and so it proved with both teams holding nothing back in the search for victory and a berth in the semifinals.
New Zealand led throughout the majority of the game, time and time again resisting the run of the Australians and maintaining a lead and silencing the crowd, but the Aussies showed the better composure in those final moments to score crucial buckets and keep New Zealand quiet.
There was plenty to enjoy about the Tall Black performance though, and on a night when they shot poorly from the three and the charity stripe, there is a strong case to suggest it is the Kiwis who have more improving in them for the remainder of the tournament.
Shea Ili bossed the game at the point, finishing with a game high 22 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds and was a constant menace driving to the hoop or making pull up jumpers. He received great support from Reuben Te Rangi (12), Tom Abercrombie (10) at the offensive end, while the Tall Blacks bossed the boards 43-29 led by Finn Delany (7) and Jordan Ngatai (6).
Head Coach Paul Henare was clearly disappointed with the result, but proud of the effort of his side as they put in another good shift at the tournament.
“It was another good hit out and I thought for 37 minutes we played some good composed basketball and that is what we need to focus on for this next match against Canada and moving forward in this tournament. We are playing some good quality hoops, the result didn’t quite go our way today, but this is the world we live in.”
Henare knows that there is plenty of improvement in the team, suggesting they left plenty of points out there tonight.
“I think the way we executed, the looks we got ourselves was great – it is a sport where you have to continue to put the ball in the hole, we shot 18% from three and 56% from the free throw line, those are crucial points that would have helped keep the scoreboard ticking over.”
Henare is not surprised by Shea Ili however, having full faith in the point guard to lead the team around the floor against any opposition.
“He is just playing with a level of confidence and comfort in our system with what he is doing. He plays both ends and put in a hell of a lot of work in that game, I am happy for him to perform well and lead this team.”
Henare was not however buying into any talk of a gold medal rematch, keeping his eye very much on the next task against Canada on Monday.
“For us it is a focus on Canada right now. When you are in tournament play you cannot get too far ahead of ourselves. We are nowhere yet, we have to get the game against Canada on Monday, we get that one and then we can start thinking about a semifinal.”
New Zealand now have a day off to recover and regroup ahead of the final pool game against Canada on Monday night, one that will likely decide 2nd and 3rd placings in the pool with Australia hot favourites to defeat Nigeria.
The top two teams from the pool will progress to the semifinals, while 3rd and 4th play quarterfinals against the top two teams from the other pool being played in Townsville.
New Zealand 71 (Ili 22, Te Rangi 12, Abercrombie 10)
Australia 79 (Kay 21, Kickert 12, Goulding 10)