New Zealand relieved with win against Lebanon

ROTORUA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) - New Zealand felt a bit relieved that they were able to grind out a 63-60 home victory over Lebanon in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers while the losing side was disappointed about the result but happy with the effort.

New Zealand got 14 points from Shea Ili while Tai Webster had 13 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists and Rob Loe chipped in 9 points and 11 rebounds as the Tall Blacks improved to 7-1 in Group E.

"It's a little bit of relief. I have a lot of pride in the guys in how they stuck with it throughout the whole game," New Zealand coach Paul Henare said. "We keep talking about staying in the process of what we’re trying to do. But I think Lebanon came in and were extremely tough. They were grinding it out as well. In those types of games it can go either way. I’ve been on the other side of the ledger more times than I’d like. Just a bit of relief."

New Zealand struggled in hitting just 28 percent from the field but they also held Lebanon to just 39 percent, including 3-of-22 (14 percent) from long range. 

"When we needed to, it was not about putting the ball through the hoop, it was about grinding it out with our defense and rebounding," said Henare, whose team grabbed 25 offensive rebounds in winning the battle of the boards 56-43. "In the end that was massive, just able to get those second opportunities. It wasn’t a great night for us putting the ball through the hoop. Just coming up with extra possessions and trying to get to the foul line. You just have to find ways to keep the scoreboard ticking over when you’re not rolling with your offense."

New Zealand know that the road to China 2019 is still long, even though they have a one-game lead in the Group E standings over Lebanon while Korea and Jordan are currently 5-2.

"The job is not done yet. It's so tight in our group right now,” said the coach. "Every single game in this qualification process is vitally important. We want to keep going until we have achieved our goal of qualifying for the World Cup - whenever that is, after three or four more wins. And then we want to continue playing for the best possible seeding."

Reuben Te Rangi only scored two points but they came on two important free throws with 5 seconds left in the game.

"We just talked about sticking with it. We knew what our job was," said Te Rangi, who also had 5 rebounds and 1 assist. "We talked about it all weekend. We’ve done that travel a lot. We knew that down the stretch if we just keep pushing it somewhere in there we’ll get those stops."

Lebanon for their part were very disappointed about not being able to finish the job after building an early lead but then falling late. 

"We came here. It was very tough for us. We were very tired, but we had one goal: to show that we are ambassadors for our country. We wanted to show a great spirit and we have been working on this for a long time and to lose the game at the end is the worst feeling. We will not come here every day, so we wanted to make history here in this beautiful country," said Lebanon's Elias Rustom, who collected a team-high 19 points to go with 7 rebounds before fouling out late. "If you play bad and you lose it's a less bad feeling. But now it's hard, maybe one of the hardest feelings for an athlete."

Lebanon coach Slobodan Subotic said he was proud of the effort his players showed.

"I'm disappointed we lost, but I'm not disappointed in the performance of my players. I am so proud to be the coach of these guys. And they showed to all people that they know how to fight for their country and fight for the Lebanese flag. It is a great future for these guys," Subotic said. "We never gave up. We always believed that we could win. I saw that in the timeouts in their eyes. That's why I'm disappointed."

Lebanon fell to 6-2 in Group E but still have good chances of making it to China 2019. The next window in November and December has Subotic’s team playing in Korea and China. New Zealand for their part host Jordan and Syria.

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