Basketball: Tall Blacks shine to topple Lebanon

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The young Tall Blacks have claimed their biggest scalp on their biggest stage to date.

The inexperienced squad have defeated hosts Lebanon 86-82 in front of a raucous crowd at the Asia Cup, in one of the most impressive victories by the national team in several years.

Lebanon were installed as one of the favourites to win the Asia Cup, and their experienced roster was always going to be a tough proposition for the Tall Blacks side bereft of their older heads.

However, the Tall Blacks' youth brigade shone through, in a performance infinitely better than their opening victory over Kazakhstan.

Up against a completely different class of opposition, the Tall Blacks' showed increased fluidity on offence, with Shea Ili once again marshalling the troops with 22 points, three rebounds and four assists.

You could have expected the Tall Blacks to be out-manned and overwhelmed by the Lebanese physicality, but aside from a few early moments, Paul Henare's side showed they weren't overawed by the occasion.

The game was won with the Tall Blacks' aggression - and execution - in the paint. Reuben Te Rangi (18 points and eight rebounds) was rejected at the rim on multiple occasions, but kept up the attacking mentality, throwing down a pivotal fourth-quarter poster. Tohi Smith-Milner - initially not named in the Tall Blacks squad - had the most important showing of his career; a presence at the rim with 15 points and six rebounds in 30 minutes of action.

Smith-Milner snared five offensive boards as the Tall Blacks hauled in 17 second chance opportunities - allowing the visitors extra possessions and ensuring they won the rebounding battle, 38-30.

Sam Timmins, just 20 years of age, grabbed four of those offensive rebounds, and was a big influence with 13 points and eight rebounds. While he had some defensive lapses, his deft offensive touches around the hoop created plenty of looks, and helped the Tall Blacks overcome a lacklustre 5/21 shooting night from outside.

The Tall Blacks also had to overcome a superb performance from 37-year-old standout Fadi El Khatib, whose performance gave Lebanon the lead early on.

El Khatib was playing like the Lebanese Dwyane Wade, getting to the rim with savvy post moves, and canning pull-up jumpers as he put up a remarkable 33 points (11/16 shooting), 11 rebounds and eight assists.

His showing kept Lebanon right in the hunt, but foul trouble allowed the Tall Blacks to begin to pull away, opening up a nine point lead in the third quarter.

That deficit evaporated upon his return, with the home crowd going wild as they pulled level with five minutes remaining.

The result remained in flux until the final minute, the teams trading baskets and stops, before a steal by Te Rangi led to Finn Delany finishing off an alley-oop, giving the Tall Blacks a four point lead that they would hold until the final buzzer.

The Tall Blacks next take on Korea, at 3.30am on Sunday. South Korea were defeated by Lebanon in their opener, but bounced back to annihilate the terrible Kazakhstan squad 116-55 this morning.

The victor of that clash books a quarter-final spot, while the loser will go into a preliminary "Round of 12" playoff game.
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