Tall Blacks claim rare win in Australia

Tall Blacks guard Shea Ili drives past Boomers guard Kyle Adnam in Brisbane last night. Photo:...
Tall Blacks guard Shea Ili drives past Boomers guard Kyle Adnam in Brisbane last night. Photo: Getty Images
The Tall Blacks have claimed a rare victory over Australia, toppling their trans-Tasman rivals 108-98 in Brisbane.

In a clash between two heavily depleted sides, the Tall Blacks rode a dominant second quarter to victory, winning it 25-15 to take 52-46 halftime lead, and never relinquishing the advantage.

The closest Australia got was within five points, with 80 seconds remaining, but a Rob Loe triple ensured the Tall Blacks would seal a promising victory.

It is a triumph that carries more weight in the long-term than the short-term. The game doubled as a qualifier for the 2021 Asia Cup, but considering the other two teams in the Tall Blacks' pool are Guam - who the Tall Blacks play on Sunday - and Hong Kong, who the Tall Blacks utterly destroyed in their World Cup qualifiers, Australia and New Zealand were always going to qualify without raising a sweat.

Additionally, both sides were missing a slew of top players. With NBA and European players unavailable, and even players from Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns not selected due to their involvement in the ANBL playoffs, Australia's roster likely included no players who will be playing at the Olympics later this year.

The Tall Blacks, similarly, were without the likes of Corey and Tai Webster, Tom Abercrombie, Isaac Fotu and Finn Delany, but even if this game was a C team taking on a B team, to win such an outing signifies the amount of growth in New Zealand basketball's depth, and produces promise for the most vital competition of the year - the Olympic qualifiers in Belgrade in June.

In prior years, the absence of many top players would have been a death knell for the Tall Blacks, instead, they can now get important contributions from a slew of players.

Shea Ili and Reuben Te Rangi led the way with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists apiece, Jordan Ngatai added 19 points, while Loe also contributed 19 points and nine rebounds. Dion Prewster and Jarrod Kenny both also chipped in with 10 points.

Continuing their up-tempo style that served them well at the World Cup, new head coach Pero Cameron saw his era off to a dream start, as his side forced Australia into 17 turnovers - including seven from star guard Nathan Sobey, who had a shocking night, shooting 4/16 from the field and 1/10 from deep.

Australia also missed 13 free throws as only Todd Blanchfield scored more than 17 points, as Australia sank to their first defeat to New Zealand since 2009, and their first against New Zealand in Australia since 2007.

The two sides meet again in November, in New Zealand, and while Australia should be much stronger then, the Tall Blacks have sent a reminder - they are not to be taken lightly.

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