CAMBEWARRA’S James Hunter and his New Zealand Tall Blacks are off the mark at the FIBA Asia Cup, with a resounding 70-49 win over Kazakhstan in Beirut on Tuesday, in the opening game of the tournament.
It was an eerie atmosphere as the locals stayed away for the opener, waiting for the home side’s first appearance later in the evening, leaving the sound to echo around the stadium.
But the young Tall Blacks appeared not to notice as they went about their work effectively, with the second half effort especially one to please head coach Paul Henare.
“I thought we had really good patches throughout the game, started the third quarter well which put them under pressure but they made a run back,” Henare said.
“We were able to recover from that though and keep our stamp on the game.”
Derone Raukawa continued his good tour, with a game high 17 points on 7 of 12 shooting, again providing impetus from the bench.
“Derone has been a spark for us this whole campaign and we need him to play with that confidence and keep the scoreboard ticking over,” Henare said.
“It always helps when guys make shots, but the majority of our offence came from defensive pressure and keeping them under the pump the whole time.
“As long as we maintain that intensity, good things will happen for us.”
The Tall Blacks started a little nervously, perhaps understandably for a team so light on experience, shooting at just 31 per cent in the first half.
But lock down defence and an inability by Kazakhstan to handle the defensive pressure saw the Kiwis leading at the main break, with Shea Ili leading the scorers with seven first half points.
The second half saw a scoring explosion on the back of threes from Jordan Ngatai and Finn Delany, and two strong drives to the basket by Shea Ili, and the game was blown wide open with the Tall Blacks leading 49-33.
Kazakhstan threatened a comeback, but that was quickly shut down by a Henare time out and a suitable response from the New Zealanders, led by Raukawa who led all scorers in the match with 17 points on 7 of 12 shooting.
The livewire guard had six rebounds and three assists on a busy night, while Delany had his best game of the tour with a double/double of 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Raukawa plays with smile on his face and eternal optimism, something that spreads to those around him on whatever team he is playing for.
“That is my job, I love the responsibility to come off the bench and provide that spark and that energy along with some scoring,” Raukawa said.
“Nothing phases me, I like to call myself a hooper, whatever the situation, whoever the opposition, I just love to get out there and pay ball.
“I have to thank my ‘bigs’ today, they set some great screens and helped me get some good open looks.”
Henare was pleased overall with the opening effort, but equally keen to improve ahead of the next game against Lebanon.
“This is a great start, they should take a lot of confidence form this game, the scoreboard stretched out at the end but Kazakhstan can play, they are all full-time professionals and we are not, so to play the way we played was pleasing,” Henare said.
“There were some defensive breakdowns that led to buckets and as always, there is plenty we can improve on.”
In his 13:52 minutes, Hunter finished the game with six points, three rebounds and two steals.
The Tall Blacks next play on Friday, August 11 against hosts Lebanon.