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Young Tall Blacks squad pick up first win in Fiba Asia Cup buildup

The Tall Blacks notched up their first win at the Kunshan International Basketball Championship in China on Monday night, tipping over previously unbeaten Angola 72-64 to end the first phase of the Fiba Asia Cup preparations on a high.

It was a continued improvement from Paul Henare's fresh-faced team - dubbed the 'Young Bloods' - following a first-up loss to China and a nail-biting defeat to Lithuania on the buzzer, showing they were quick learners.

Shea Ili scored a team-high 16 points as the Tall Blacks upset Angola 72-64 in China. ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF
Point guard Shea Ili top-scored with 16 points, while Tohi Smith-Milner, Jordan Ngatai and Derone Raukawa also scored in double-digits for the Tall Blacks, who never trailed against the tournament favourites.

Head coach Henare said the start was crucial

"We got off to a really good start. Angola seemed to be lacking a bit of energy and urgency early and we did a good job of capitalising on that," Henare said. "Derone came off the bench and was a good spark and got the scoreboard ticking over, but getting off to a good start was huge for us and for our confidence."

Raukawa posted eight quick points in the first half and with centre Sam Timmins chiming in with six points and three boards and the team shooting 4-of-13 from deep, the Tall Blacks were perhaps more comfortable than the 34-29 halftime score suggested.

Despite that, Henare gave his team a halftime dressing down for what he described as loose play that was "not Tall Blacks basketball".

"We were playing some good basketball but letting ourselves down by being sloppy with the ball. It is a constant work on for us, 18 turnovers we are on the way down, but that number is still far too high. We will continue to look at that and make steady improvements like we have throughout the tournament."
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Henare was delighted to see his young squad control the game and resist numerous runs from the experienced Angolans, with the whole squad contributing - from Ngatai's corner three to end the third quarter, to Smith-Milner's back-to-back long-range bombs in the final quarter to crucial boards from the big men.

"I am extremely happy and proud of the boys to beat Angola, this is their full-strength team and they have some serious talent and unbelievable experience with five or six guys that have been to multiple world championships and probably Olympics as well. For our young group to perform against a side like that was very impressive.

"They are starting to understand the level of play they need to be at, that every minor mistake gets punished. They are figuring that out and growing in confidence, everyone that played off the bench had a positive input into the game and that is what we are going to need, to play by committee at the Asia Cup, that is what we will continue to ask of the team."

The Tall Blacks now travel to Chengdu for another tournament, with games against Lithuania, Angola and China Red, giving a further chance to develop the chemistry before games that really count.

"I think we are about halfway, the camp back home and now the first tournament here," Henare said. "For us it is about enjoying this win, that is important to celebrate it for what it is. For five of our players it is their first win as Tall Blacks, so we will enjoy it. But tomorrow we get on the bus and the plane and head to the next game and continue to grow and develop as a team."

Those five players picking up their first win were Sam Timmins, Isaac Letoa, Dyson King-Hawea, Luke Aston and James Hunter.

The Tall Blacks begin their Fiba Asia Cup campaign in Beirut on August 8 against Kazakhstan, before games against hosts Lebanon and South Korea.

Tall Blacks 72 (Shea Ili 16, Tohi Smith-Milner 13, Jordan Ngatai 11, Derone Raukawa 10) Angola 64 (Reggie Moore 17, Leonel Paulo 15, Olimpio Cipriano 10

Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/basketball/95305241/young-tall-blacks-squad-pick-up-first-win-in-fiba-asia-cup-buildup

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