Two wins for Roller Blacks in Beijing

Victorious in two of their five matches, the New Zealand Roller Blacks have finished in 11th place at the Asia-Oceania world qualifying championships in Beijing, China.

New Zealand’s lack of international match play was exposed in a difficult competition but showed resolve to bounce back after early heavy losses with wins over United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The tournament was won by Australia who whipped Iran in the grand final. Iran had earlier trounced New Zealand 91-15 in round-robin action. Australia, Iran, third-placed Japan and fourth-placed Korea have subsequently qualified for the World Championships in Germany in 2018.

The New Zealanders had set some clear expectations of themselves although set back when coach Murray Mackay was unable to travel because of illness. Shane Davies and Glenn MacDonald assumed coaching duties.

The first game versus Thailand was lost 85-54, a disappointing margin. New Zealand led 15-12 at the first quarter break but capitulated in the second spell to trail 34-21 at halftime. Thailand kept control thereafter and the score blew out again as New Zealand got into foul trouble and lost Eamon Wood and captain Mark Sullivan.

Then came the Iran match. Iran is a team of big players with very quick hands but it wasn’t New Zealand’s finest hour of basketball, with poor defence and early foul troubles.  New Zealand was held scoreless  in the second quarter to trail by a demoralising 55-4 at halftime. Overall, there were 19 turnovers conceded and 16 fouls.

However, the 51-41 win over Saudi Arabia in game three injected some much-needed verve into New Zealand’s tournament. Sheldon Larsen, Kauri Murray and Eamon Wood scored the majority of points. There were just three errors recorded.

‘The match against Chinese Taipei put New Zealand back on its heels with a 58-48 loss. The team never switched in during the first quarter and  failed to make inroads, unable to put the ball into the basket sufficiently.

In the play-off with UAE, New Zealand really started to gel and won 60-42. Sheldon Larsen amassed 28 points.

New Zealand had a 36 per cent scoring average in the series and in two games never put up a three point shot. There were times when players were in a position to shoot and instead dribbled or passed the ball out. The side also racked up 83 fouls in five games.

The true successes for New Zealand were Sheldon Larsen and Kauri Murray. Larsen, as usual, was into everything and continues to make his mark wherever he plays on the world stage, always performing with a sense of responsibility.

Prior to the tournament teenager Kauri Murray might not have expected much game time but he grasped his opportunities early, forcing his way into the top line-up with a refreshing aggressiveness, good rebounding and handy shooting. His playing future looks very bright.


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