New Zealand Select made it two from two on tour in China, but tonight’s 92-85 win over Cameroon came in very different circumstances to the opening win two nights ago.
The young New Zealanders started poorly tonight in front of another large and passionate crowd in Shunde, at one point falling behind by 18 points and needing a good old-fashioned Paul Henare time out to remind them of the singlet they were wearing.
The Ethan Rusbatch led side responded to the challenge, picking up their effort areas, staying composed on offence and chipping away play by play at the deficit, finally taking their first lead of the game with 8 minutes left to play.
There was a clutch of big plays down the stretch as the game continued to be in the balance, with Tony Tolovae, Tom Vodanovich and Isaac Letoa draining triples under immense pressure, but it was Derone Raukawa who led the team home, scoring 17 of his 25 points in the second half.
Henare was pleased with the response from his players, but equally concerned about the slow start.
“For whatever reason we just weren’t in the game in the first half and a big non-negotiable for me is the effort areas and they needed reminding of that. Cameroon came out strong and out muscled us, playing at a much higher level than a couple of nights back. We knew it was happening, but sometimes a team just can’t find their way into a game and they needed a reminder.
“But the response was good, they knew, they understood, and they found a way in the second half and everyone found a way to contribute. Derone had a shaky start but stood up and led the team home and made some great plays, so overall I am pleased, but there will be plenty of learning from the video tomorrow for sure.”
The slow start aside, there were contributions across the board for the New Zealanders, with Hyrum Harris showing no fear with a double-double while Mike Karena may not have shown out on the stats (5 points, 2 rebounds), the Rams centre was a huge and calming presence in the paint.
New Zealand Select now move to Hancheng for the Four Nation Tournament, playing Cameroon, Montenegro and a regional Chinese team over three consecutive nights, starting August 17.
New Zealand Select 92 (Raukawa 25, 3 boards, 3 assists; Harris 15, 11 boards, 3 assists; Rusbatch 12, 3 steals)