Dejan Vasiljevic hit a pull-up 3-pointer at the buzzer to defeat New Zealand 84-81, the win solidifying Australia’s spot in the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championships.
Vasiljevic finished the game with 15 points while Tanner Krebs had a team-high 18 points off the bench.
New Zealand opened the first quarter in a zone, which Australia was more than obliging to shoot over – Dejan Vasiljevic and Kyle Clark knocking down an early 3-pointer each. However, the Junior Tall Blacks managed to get easy points on the other end, their full-court pressure forcing turnovers by the Emus. Big-man Sam Timmins simply outworked Harry Froling in the paint, scoring on the Queenslander with an array of post moves. Australia’s hot shooting and ability to run in transition put them back in the driving seat. A 3-pointer at the buzzer from Tanner Krebs giving the Emus a 31-21 lead at the end of the 1st.
Abi Akintola was particularly impressive in the 1st quarter, his activity on both ends of the floor energising this Emus squad.
New Zealand’s night took a turn for the worst when, at the start of the 2nd quarter, Brandon Gleaves suffered a head injury that ruled him out for the rest of the game. Akintola continued to dominate the paint, doing an impressive job finishing in traffic. With New Zealand opting to settle for long 3-point attempts, the Emus managed to contain their lead for the most-part of the quarter. However, just like the 1st quarter, turnovers plagued the Emus – with New Zealand able to get to within 3 points as Sam Timmins continued to dominate down low. Australia would ultimately head into the half with a 40-35 lead, Abi Akintola leading the way for Australia with 8 points.
New Zealand opened the 3rd quarter with a 9-4 run to tie the game at 44 apiece, Tai Wynyard starting to heat up for the Junior Tall Blacks. Emus head coach Adam Caporn opted to insert Akintola back in the game, and it paid off immediately with the Melbournian forcing a turnover and converting the and-1. Tanner Krebs was also a difference maker for Australia, scoring 8 straight points to extend the lead to 53-44 midway through the 3rd period. The teams exchanged buckets throughout the rest of the quarter, with Australia taking a slight 61-56 lead heading into the much anticipated 4th quarter.
After exchanging baskets early in the 4th quarter, New Zealand managed to regain the lead on a Joseph Cook-Green bucket. Again, it was Wynyard who continued to show why he is such a highly regarded prospect – taking advantage of Australia’s lack of size to keep the Junior Tall Blacks close.
With Australia down 75-77, Tom Wilson made a layup in traffic followed by a huge 3-pointer in the corner from Dejan Vasiljevic – the Emus now leading 80-77 with less than a minute to go in the 4th.
New Zealand’s Sam Timmins split a pair of free throws with Tom Wilson splitting a pair of his own in the ensuing possession, Australia up 81-78 with 16 seconds to go.
Emus coach Adam Caporn chose to foul New Zealand – Jayden Bezzant hitting his first, his second rebounded. Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa drew a foul and hit 2 clutch free throws of his own – tying the game at 81-81.
This set the stage for Vasiljevic’s heroics.
Abi Akintola was the most important player for the Emus in this matchup, posting an impressive 13 points and 3 rebounds, as well as some key defensive plays.
The Emus were dominated inside the paint for the most-part of the game, with Sam Timmins and Tai Wynyard combining for 41 points and 30 rebounds. With Isaac Humphries not with the team due to injury, the burden was on Harry Froling and Jordan Hunter to limit the Kiwi big-men – with the Kiwi duo coming out on top.
Now that the squad has finally qualified for the FIBA U19 World Championship next year, the conversation regarding Thon Maker will come back into fruition. Look for Ben Simmons and Thon Maker – as well as the likes of Matur Maker, Jonah Bolden, Deng Adel, Daniel Mading and William McDowell-White – to be in the mix for the squad that competes in Greece next June.
A full strength squad, should everyone be available, could genuinely compete for a gold medal at the event.
The 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship will be held in Heraklion, Greece from July 27 to July 5.