Although not making the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics wasn’t the result New Zealand had hoped for in the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila, Philippines, the Tall Blacks remain proud of how they have performed in the competition.
New Zealand’s road ended on Saturday night in the semifinals, after they lost to Canada, 78-72. Cory Joseph led the team with 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists, while Melvin Ejim and Tristan Thompson each added 13 points.
The Tall Blacks had to weather struggles throughout the game, like losing Isaac Fotu to a calf injury, and Tai Webster hurting his left wrist before returning to the game.
“I am really proud of the way we played tonight.”
“We had a little bit of adversity, we lost Isaac early on, we had to throw a number of different line-ups, a lot of small line-ups too, against a team like Canada with some big bodies and real athletes out there,” Thomas Abercrombie, who had 16 points and six rebounds, said.
Isaac Fotu finished with only three points and a rebound in close to nine minutes of play, after registering 12.5 PPG and 7.5 RPG in his first two games.
“He felt a tweak or a pop in his calf muscle. He came off and wasn’t feeling too great. Obviously it was serious enough that he couldn’t play anymore (in the game),” head coach Paul Henare shared.
“We battled really hard. We gave ourselves a great chance to win this game. A couple of little things in the end cost us.”
“But for the most part, I think I am really proud of how we fought and how we played,” Abercrombie added.
New Zealand even led by as many as seven points, although Canada would bounce back and take control until the final buzzer.
Head coach Paul Henare praised his boys and shared how proud he is of how they performed throughout the entire build-up for the Manila OQT.
“Obviously I had a pretty tough conversation with the team in the locker room. Those guys really worked their butts off not just tonight but for the last four or five weeks,” Henare said, even noting how in awe he was of how New Zealand were able to stay in the game.
“I told them how extremely proud I am of the way they played. We lost one of their influential players early on when Isaac went down. For our guys to still find a way to compete with that team, that was quite astonishing really.”
The Tall Blacks also had eight more assists than Canada, 18-10, and shot 11-for-29 from three-point area compared to only 4-for-20 for their opponent.
“Again, I don’t know how we competed. We were outsized, outmatched, but we still found a way,” the mentor shared.
Looking ahead, Henare said the squad will take lessons from the experience. With most players in the roster just in their early or mid-20s, New Zealand are bound to get even better in the years to come.
“That’s full credit to our guys. We were not good enough today, but I know that these guys can hold their heads high and the other guys who will be around for a long time will learn from this experience,” the Kiwi mentor concluded.