A dramatic third-quarter turnaround has seen the NZ Tall Blacks drop the opening game of their build up to the FIBA World Championship 71-76 to Serbia in Istanbul, Turkey. However Tall Blacks head coach, Nenad Vucinic was not too disappointed with the result.
“Serbia are a talented team. They are very big and athletic. One of the best defensive teams around. It was a pretty good effort overall for our first game,” he said.
Shooter Kirk Penney was in excellent touch, the Kiwis seemed to be cruising with a nine-point lead just before halftime. Penney had already amassed 23 points and was faultless (5/5) from long distance.
But the tide turned after the break as the Serbians scored seven straight points to get back on level terms and then swept to a double-digit advantage with 14 unanswered points.
The Turks did a solid job on Penney defensively, limiting him to just one shot (which he missed) during a third period in which Serbia effected a 15-point swing.
“It was just two or three turnovers and a couple of defensive rebounds for them which made it hard for us and then they made a big run. We can do better. There were some positives from our first time out on the court,” said Vucinic.
New Zealand found it tough containing their big opponents around the basket at both ends of the court. The Eastern Europeans enjoyed a 12-5 edge in offensive boards and shot 60% from close range.
Serbian guard Stefan Markovic hit back-to-back threes early in the final quarter to put the contest beyond the Tall Blacks’ grasp, but the Kiwis worked hard to close a 15-point deficit over the final 3m 21s.
Captain Pero Cameron and Penney both struck from the arc to seize momentum back their way, and Mika Vukona had them within five with 13 seconds remaining, but it was too difficult to come back on the scoreboard.
Penney led all scorers with 34 points (11/17 FG, 7/8 3pt, 5/8 FT), but was the only NZ player in double figures. As a team, they controlled the ball well (just 12 turnovers), but converted better from afar (42% 3pt) than up close (40% 2pt).
By contrast, Serbia, which finished runners-up at last year’s FIBA Eurobasket, presented a more balanced scoring effort, led by 13 points from Kosta Petrovic.
New Zealand must now regroup for their second game of the Adidas Cup tournament against hosts Turkey on Sunday, 5.30am NZ time.
“It will be even tougher against the home team, Turkey. It will be a huge game for us, as it was today. Turkey have had a lot of preparation, but we don’t shy away from tough games,” said Vucinic.
Friday, August 6
Serbia 76 (Kosta Petrovic 13, Miroslav Radulijica 11, Novica Velickovic 11, Stefan Markovic 10) New Zealand 71 (Kirk Penney 34)
HT 32-39 (15-18)
Q3 59-51 (27-12)
FT 76-71 (17-20)