The Anchor Junior Tall Blacks are a little tired of de ja vu, as they lost a third game on the run at the FIBA U19 World Cup after showing great fight and tenacity against higher ranked opponents, this time beaten by Germany 72-65 in the round of 16.
It means the best the young Kiwis can hope for is a ninth-place finish at the tournament, which in itself is a lofty goal for a team having qualified for the first time in their history, but Head Coach Daryl Cartwright is struggling to get over the initial disappointment, knowing the effort that has gone into the campaign.
“It is really gutting, I was kind of lost for words a little in the changing room, you could see it on the guys, their heads were down and they were hurting bad. That is three games in a row now where we have been oh so close but not quite good enough, that margin for error is so small. We struggled to deal with their length and athleticism early and got rattled. But yeah, it hurts, we didn’t want to be in the bottom half of the tournament and after the run we have had, we are gutted.”
That run is not only the three losses on the bounce, but the way they have occurred and the circumstance surrounding them, with the entire team at one point or another having to overcome the effects of an energy sapping stomach illness, to the extent that Cartwright would look up during a halftime team talk and see half the team were in the toilets.
Cartwright was not using that as an excuse though, highlighting his team’s inability to deal with the early German pressure for the loss – despite a brave fightback that brought them back from 21-7 down to make it a one basket game inside the final minute.
“Our care with the basketball wasn’t good enough, their length saw them getting deflections on passes and we were over penetrating and forced into bad shots. They average 6’8” across the floor with their starting lineup and we kept the ball in the hands too much and over dribbled and we were stuttering at the offensive end and they kept piling on the pressure at the other end knocking down shots as well.”
Cartwright has a job to do now to ensure his players regroup and focus on the next task, winning their classification matches knowing that ninth place is well within their capabilities.
“I have been so proud of this team’s effort, it has been huge and we always find a way to come back and give ourselves a chance. We key on the core values of what Tall Blacks basketball is, that never say die. We pride ourselves on our defence and the effort categories like rebounding. That area of our game cannot be faulted. It was just the mental side, patience and poise under pressure. We can say we are not exposed to that level of basketball enough but that is just an excuse.
“We have made adjustments in our game through the tournament, but once again that big hole and not being able to claw it back is gutting, but I am massively proud of our guys and the group, and they can be proud of themselves and so too their families as well.”
The final moments were not without controversy, with the referees awarding Germany an unsportsmanlike foul after contact between two players before the ball was inbound with the Germans leading by just three. Cartwright felt it should have been a no-call.
“I said to the referee, we have fought back and you have kind of decided the game with that call. I thought both players were holding, there was no disadvantage to the Germans and you could have called it both ways so why not let it go and let the players decide it? That would have been much better, the gutting thing is we got the stop but bobbled the rebound out of bounds and gave them the possession.
“There were a number of ‘if only moments’ at the end there, that is gutting for me as a coach but the players are disappointed as well with a call like that, it takes the opportunity away from them to tie the game up with one possession on the clock.”
The team will now rest up for 24 hours before playing Mali on Friday (tip off time TBC) in their first classification match.
Anchor Junior Tall Blacks 65
Samuel 14, Wynyard 14p/ 9r Waardenburg 11p/ 12r, McDonald 6, Letoa 5, T Cameron 4, McWilliam 4, Clinton 3/5a, Aitcheson 2, F Cameron 2
Sanders 15, de Silva 12, Olinde 12