The New Zealand Tall Blacks have finished their FIBA World Cup on a high with a tremendous thrilling win over Turkey to ensure they return home with their heads held high but thinking what could have been.
As it turns out, New Zealand had an outstanding World Cup and they were ever so close to it being even better.
Ultimately that narrow loss in the final match of the group phase to Greece cost them a shot of advancing further because they have shown they are more than capable of taking it up to some of the world’s powerhouses.
New Zealand kept its hopes of advancing to the second round alive with a big win over Montenegro before the narrow loss to Greece.
But the Tall Blacks held their heads high and thumped Japan on Saturday and then closed their World Cup campaign on Monday night with a thrilling 102-101 victory over Turkey with Isaac Fotu hitting their last four points of the contest.
That was a Turkish team who went heartbreakingly close of beating the USA in the group phase as well so it was a significant scalp for the Tall Blacks to take with them to close their World Cup of 2019.
Overall New Zealand leaves the World Cup having beaten Montenegro, Japan and Turkey while losing to Brazil and then Greece in a thriller so it’s something coach Paul Henare deserves to be tremendously proud of.
It was a win by committee on Monday evening too without Corey Webster needed to continue his standout form. He still had 12 points, five assists and three rebounds but received plenty of support.
Isaac Fotu was a weapon inside with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists on 7/11 shooting while Rob Loe also had 17 points and four assists.
Tai Webster and Finn Delany scored 12 points apiece as well for the Tall Blacks while Tom Abercrombie contributed 11 points, six rebounds and three assists with Shea Ili contributing nine points and four assists, Tohi Smith-Milner nine points and five boards, and Ethan Rusbatch three points.
Cedi Osman was massive for Turkey with 32 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals on shooting 12/21 from the floor and 5/12 from deep.
Melih Mahmutoglu wasn’t far behind with 27 points and five assists while former Cairns Taipans NBL guard Scottie Wilbekin had 15 points and seven dimes. Semih Erden added 12 points.
Both nations knew this would be their farewell to World Cup campaigns that certainly have had more highs than lows for both even they missed qualifying for the second round.
Corey Webster kept his form going early with a triple for the Tall Blacks in the opening two minutes and then his brother Tai joined in as they led 8-4. Rob Loe joined the fun from downtown to make it 11-6 before he soon added a second.
But Turkey had the better of the rest of the opening quarter to lead 31-26 after one with Cedi Osman hitting a triple on the buzzer.
Tai Webster opened the second quarter with a three for New Zealand and they soon regained the lead with a trademark Tom Abercrombie dunk.
But when Scott Wilbekin hit a triple, Turkey was threatening to open a healthy lead up six but Abercrombie responded with another slam. New Zealand, though, was back on top shortly before half-time with an Isaac Fotu layup.
However, Turkey hit back and led 53-50 going into half-time and that became 59-50 when they scored the opening six points of the second half.
Turkey maintained a handy lead the rest of the third quarter to lead 77-74 heading into the fourth but the Tall Blacks scored first in the final period to draw level courtesy of an Ethan Rusbatch triple.
A Finn Delany dunk then put New Zealand up two but Turkey regained the advantage courtesy of a triple from Melih Mahmutoglu. Four quick Loe points had the Tall Blacks back on top by three but it was a game destined to go down to the wire.
Turkey was up by a point with 2:30 to go after Osman hit another from downtown. But Abercrombie responded with a turnaround jumper only for Wilbekin to regain the lead for Turkey as he drove hard to the rim.
Fotu regained the one-point New Zealand lead only for Osman to put Turkey back up one with 30 seconds remaining. The Tall Blacks had the final say, though, with a hook shot from Fotu ultimately delivering the 102-101 win.
FIBA WORLD CUP – CLASSIFICATION ROUND 17-32
NEW ZEALAND 102 (Rob Loe 17, Isaac Fotu 17, Tai Webster 12, Finn Delany 12, Corey Webster 12)
TURKEY 101 (Cedi Osman 32, Melih Mahmutoglu 27, Scottie Wilbekin 15)