The Tall Blacks have claimed a miraculous 63-60 comeback win in their World Cup qualifier match against Lebanon tonight thanks to clutch free throw shooting and desperate defence.
The Tall Blacks were playing catch up for almost the entire match in Rotorua with poor shooting from the field seriously hindering their cause.
The home side shot just under 28 per cent from the field in tonight’s game – seriously behind their opponents who shot 38 per cent.
The main issue came from behind the arc with the Tall Blacks making just four of 23 three-point attempts.
It saw them fall behind to a 7-18 deficit after the first quarter, but strong plays from the Webster brothers and Shea Ili saw them claw back to sit 25-25 at halftime.
The game remained a seesaw of poor shooting until the final minute of the match with Lebanon leading 60-59.
Lebanon held possession as the clock ticked down but New Zealand’s defence forced a rare turnover as the visitors were called for travelling.
That led to big offensive play at the other end with Corey Webster putting up a two-pointer.
The shot missed but he managed to get his own rebound and dish the ball to Ili who went for a shot of his own but was fouled.
Ili remained composed at the free throw line to score both shots and give the Tall Blacks a 61-60 lead with 20 seconds left.
The defence again shut down Lebanon as they were forced into a miracle three-point shot with six seconds to go, but the shot missed the rim completely and was rebounded by Reuben Te Rangi.
Te Rangi then put the game on ice with another pair of made free throws.
After getting a late call up to the team, Corey Webster made his presence known in the match. The experienced guard finished with 11 points, four rebounds and two assists.
His efforts were matched by his brother Tai who scored 13 points along with seven rebounds, four assists and a steal.
With the win, the Tall Blacks sit top of their World Cup qualifier pool on seven wins from eight matches – one point ahead of Lebanon.
With the top three teams from each pool qualifying for the World Cup in China next year, the result boosts the Kiwi side’s chances immensely.
The Tall Blacks now have two months off before their next match when they host Jordan in Christchurch on November 29.