The Tall Blacks’ 98-70 victory over Jordan has advanced the young Kiwi squad, led by Cook Islander Reuben Te Rangi, into the semi-finals of the Asia Cup, where they will, once again, meet Australia.
One of the positives of moving to the Asian conference for New Zealand basketball was the fact it was no longer necessary to beat the powerhouse Australians to qualify for major tournaments. While that is still the case, their long-term rivals will be awaiting them on Sunday morning, attempting to put an end to what has been an impressive run by the Tall Blacks.
That run continued this morning against an overmatched Jordan side, who put up a reasonable fight to keep the Tall Blacks on their toes through the first three quarters of the clash.
Jordan were the best possible quarter-final opponents for the Tall Blacks, who earned the right to play them based on topping their group, and put up one of their best offensive displays this tournament.
Once again, Shea Ili was the main man for the Tall Blacks, as point guard ran the show with his usual calm mix of tenacity and athleticism, finishing with 19 points and 13 assists.
He received significant first half assistance from Tohi Smith-Milner (19 points and seven rebounds in just 19 minutes), before Finn Delany (17 points, nine rebounds) stepped up in the second to negate any prospect of a Jordanian comeback.
Captain Te Rangi also put in another strong showing, scoring nine points and showing his playmaking prowess with his seven assists.
Jordan were able to stay in touch for three quarters, but rarely looked capable of an upset victory. Their offensive spurts coincided with a mix of defensive schemes, as they threw zones at the Tall Blacks, and sat back on the pick and roll.
The idea was to make the Tall Blacks hit three pointers - a reasonable theory considering their poor shooting from deep this tournament. However, Paul Henare’s side hit with enough regularity to make them pay - going at an 11/30 clip from downtown.
That, combined with a 19/21 showing from the free throw line, kept Jordan at bay when they threatened to come close.
Mahmoud Abdeen, the first ponytailed player since Dillon Boucher’s hair experiments in the mid-2000s, kept Jordan in touch. Abdeen had 20 first half points as Jordan got within two, but the Tall Blacks’ offensive fluidity saw the score balloon back out to 50-38 by the break.
Similar scenes were to come. With Ili having a breather, Jordan came back within three points in the third quarter, but Ili’s return, and some timely threes, quickly culled that brief danger.
Finally, Jordan had no more bullets to fire, and the Tall Blacks pulled away, finishing the game on a 37-13 run to give the score line a comprehensive tinge.
Now, Australia await, and it will be a different challenge to the usual high-powered Oceania battles between the two sides.
Under the tutelage of former Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis, Australia have coasted through the tournament, thrashing China 97-71 in their quarter-final. While Australia have plenty of talent, they - like the Tall Blacks - have taken a largely local side to the tournament; the difference being that they can still call upon a slew of ANBL veterans.
Although still favourites to progress to the final, Australia are similarly not at full-strength, a fact the Tall Blacks will place stock in as they set out to evolve their tournament from an impressive showing into a spectacular accomplishment.
- NZ Herald