CAMBEWARRA’S James Hunter and his New Zealand Select team came up agonisingly short of a perfect tour and tournament win, going down 69-67 against Chinese CBA team Jiangsu in a white-hot atmosphere in Hancheng, finishing second in their Four Nations Tournament.
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The young New Zealanders, who had already defeated Montenegro (79-77) and Cameroon (122-84), did themselves proud in the effort areas, never giving their bigger opponents any space to move and winning the boards 41-28 but chose the final night of the tour for their offence to go missing, making just 7 of 26 long range attempts and more crucially, just 14 of 25 from the free throw line.
It was bitter sweet for this young team, but the only loss of the tour will soon be forgotten in the context of the experience and bigger lessons learned by a young group superbly led by Ethan Rusbatch.
Head coach Paul Henare spoke of his pride in the group and coaching staff.
“The loss is hard to take but take it we have to. We know how tough it is to tour China, it has been this way ever since I can remember and probably for a long time before that, but that is why we come here, to learn, to play and tour under pressure,” Henare said.
“We need only look to ourselves for ways in which we could have won this game and I know the boys will be hurting, any loss in a black singlet is one too many.
“But New Zealand Select is about more than that, this has been superb group of young players, coaches and support staff – everyone has learned so much over these two weeks, me included.
“They will look back on these two weeks and be proud of what they have achieved but most important is to take those lessons forward and keep improving.
“As a coaching group we couldn’t be more pleased with the progress of the group, every player showed us why they were selected and have done New Zealand proud on and off court.”
New Zealand stayed in the game on the back of their intense defensive pressure, even when the shots weren’t falling, the score never blew out.
It looked as though they might have done enough to win it when Taylor Britt stopped and drained a three to extend the lead to 4 late in the match, but Jiangsu stayed composed and kept a desperate final New Zealand attack away from the basket in the dying seconds.
For New Zealand, Ethan Rusbatch (12 points), Tom Vodanovich (11) and James Hunter (10) led the scoring, while Vodanovich made it a double/double with 11 boards.
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