The last time the Tall Blacks defeated the Boomers in a senior men's basketball match was in 2009. New Zealand finally broke their drought on Thursday night in Brisbane, at a qualifier for the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup. An Australia squad featuring six debutants fell by a score of 98-108, against a more experienced Tall Blacks outfit. New Zealand Big man Rob Loe debuted in 2009, and he joked at the postgame press conference last night that it had been 11 years since he beat Australia.
In spite of the final result, it was actually the boys in green and gold who got off to a flyer. Australia started the game with a 9-0 run, which would be their largest lead of the night. Cam Gliddon set the tone early with a tough contested three-pointer, and he would finish the first quarter with six points. Todd Blanchfield was another opening quarter standout, recording five points and several defensive hustle plays, including a block.
Although Australia led 31-27 after the first quarter, it was largely downhill from there. Reuben Te Rangi inspired a New Zealand comeback with ten second quarter points. Playing in front of a Brisbane crowd, the Bullets swingman looked at home and unleashed his frustrations, following a disappointing NBL season where he only played 8.7 minutes per game. “Obviously he had a bit of a tough year with [Brisbane]," Bullets teammate Jason Cadee acknowledged, "With just minutes and stuff like that. But, Reuben’s a good player and it was good to see him out there doing his thing, and just playing basketball the way I know he can.”
The Tall Blacks headed into the half time break with a six-point cushion, as the score stood at 52-46. They subsequently picked up where they left off in the second half, building a 61-48 lead early in the third quarter. 6'11 centre Rob Loe was on fire, recording seven quick points in the first two minutes of the third period. This included two long-range jump shots, as the Boomers underestimated the big man's shooting stroke.
New Zealand built up an 82-73 lead by the end of the third quarter. Australia needed to find something in the final period to win, and they got to within six points at 82-88. However, Reuben Te Rangi had other ideas. The sharpshooter achieved a remarkable four-point play, pushing New Zealand's lead back out to ten. The Boomers later got to within five points in the final minute, but Rob Loe hit a clutch three-pointer to seal the result. New Zealand ran out 108-98 winners, earning bragging rights over their trans-Tasman rivals.
Australia's loss unsurprisingly raised some questions. Five new Boomers took to the court in Brisbane --excluding Josh Giddey, who landed in Australia on Wednesday, according to Olgun Uluc-- and coach Will Weaver suggested that a lack of experience presented challenges.
“There’s always going to be a learning curve for our group to be able to cope with a team of that experience. The togetherness that they had obviously showed with the number of participants they had in last year’s world cup – [given] guys like Shea [Ili], Tohi [Smith-Milner] and those [other] guys making themselves available,” Weaver said.
Veteran point guard Jason Cadee echoed similar thoughts, giving credit to New Zealand's experience and continuity. He also explained the difficulties in building team chemistry over a two-day camp.
“Look, I don’t want to take anything away from New Zealand - they played really well, they shot the ball well, [and] hit shots when they needed to. I just think their experience as a team really showed today. They’ve been together [for] a long time, regardless of whether they have everyone or not. They’ve been together [for] a long time, [whereas] we’ve been together [for] two days. So, I think that showed a lot tonight, with our inexperience. Just as a crew, we haven’t been together [for] long enough.”
Tall Blacks Shea Ili and Jordan Ngatai were the other standout performers at Nissan Arena. Ili had 21 points on an inefficient 6 of 16 shots attempted, while Ngatai's 19 points came off only nine shot attempts. He made half of his three-pointers (3/6) and hit 4/5 from the three point line.
The game wasn't without positives for Australia. Cadee praised the 98-point scoring effort, but conceded that it was futile in the face of a leaky defence. “It’s a shame, because I feel like we did some things really well. We still scored the points, [but] we just couldn’t defend as well as we wanted to,” he said.
When asked how they kick-started their second quarter run, Rob Loe credited the fast-paced offense implemented by New Zealand's coaching staff. “ We came into the game a bit slow and not [with] that fast paced offense that [head coach Pero Cameron] and the coaching staff have put in. We talked about it in that quarter time [break], and came out in that second quarter. It kind of, I guess, maybe took [Australia] by surprise a little bit, ” he said.
Ultimately this ended up being a reasonably high scoring game, with over 200 points scored in total. The frenetic pace pushed by the Tall Blacks may have caught Australia off guard, and engineered a long-awaited victory.
Studs and duds
Boomers captain Nathan Sobey lauded the first-time Boomers on their effort against New Zealand, which included Sunday Dech (8 points), Angus Glover (8 points, 5 rebounds) and Kyle Adnam (12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists). Adnam and Dech both showed impressive composure on the court, driving and making plays for their teammates.
“I think the young guys did a great job, coming on and really having an impact. The energy was contagious with those sorts of things. [They] really got after it and really picked probably some of our other guys up, and got them going as well. So that’s a huge positive for them guys, being their first international game.”
Reuben Te Rangi was easily the best player on the court. He finished with 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and just one turnover. Jason Cadee had high praise for his club teammate, saying “Reuben’s a hell of a player. He’s my roommate, I love him to death. To see him back playing basketball and enjoying it [is great]."
While Te Rangi was the standout, Sobey had a game to forget. The Boomer finished with seven turnovers and shot 1 of 10 from beyond the arc. The 6'2 guard acknowledged his performance in the post-match press conference, identifying ball security as an area of future improvement. “Seven turnovers – that’s not going to get it [done] anywhere. So [I] need to definitely take care of the ball a lot better -that’s one thing moving forward,” Sobey said.
The Boomers will now regroup, and face Hong Kong on 23 February. This will be the last 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifier before November. A win over Hong Kong will provide much-needed confidence going forward, following the loss to New Zealand.