New Zealand prevail despite Khatib heroics

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A vintage display from talisman Fadi al-Khatib was not enough Thursday as Lebanon fell to New Zealand 86-82 in an enthralling encounter in Zouk. The 38-year-old rolled back the years to register a game-high 33 points along with 11 rebounds and eight assists, shooting 69 percent from the field on 11/16.

But despite Khatib’s heroics, New Zealand were able to utilize their patent size advantage, converting 19 second-chance points off of an eye-watering 17 offensive rebounds.

“There were many officiating mistakes,” an irked Khatib said after the game. “But we should learn from this game going forward.”

“We are playing very well and be sure we will improve as the competition goes on.”

The guests also succeeded greatly at shutting down Lebanon point guard Wael Arakji, who endured a miserable night that ended with a meager two points.

Shea Ili led the way for New Zealand, notching 22 points to go along with four rebounds and three assists, while effectively keeping Arakji at bay on the defensive end.

Lebanon made a flying start to proceedings, with naturalized American center Norvelle Pelle keying an 6-0 run with vital contributions on both ends of the floor.

First he swatted away a New Zealand shot before galloping up court to convert an alley-oop from a gorgeous Arakji feed as Lebanon went 8-2 up. After making only four of his 19 shots against Korea Tuesday, Khatib adopted a more assertive approach Thursday, repeatedly attacking the paint and pressuring the New Zealand defense.

The results were emphatic as he ended the quarter with 13 points, and more importantly, Lebanon ahead 23-19.

But New Zealand found their feet in the second quarter, with Reuben Te Rangi’s driving lay-up giving the guests their first lead of the game.

Khatib, though, was proving an inexorable force under the basket as a supple pirouette followed by an easy bucket saw Lebanon regain the advantage at 31-28.

A pinpoint Khatib lob for the soaring Pelle extended Lebanon’s lead to six points at 37-31.

But New Zealand came roaring back and a Te Rangi teardrop followed by a 3-pointer from Ethan Rustbatch saw them end the half with a slender 42-40 buffer.

Ili turned it on in the third quarter, converting a four-point play after Amir Souad needlessly fouled the New Zealand guard.

Another 3 from Rustbatch saw the teams headed for the fourth quarter with Lebanon down 67-61.

The game was at its pulsating best in the final period as both sides seemed to score almost at will.

Khatib showed no signs of slowing down, with a sumptuous floater and foul reducing the deficit to three points.

The small forward then perforated the New Zealand defense once more to tie the game at 69.

But Ili was proving an increasing mismatch for Arakji, as he scored with a driving lay-up to reestablish a six-point lead for his side at 75-69.

A pair of baskets from Bassel Bawji and Ali Haidar cut into the arrears before another piercing drive from Khatib leveled things up at 75.

But with Lebanon down two and in possesion of the ball, Arakji made a costly turnover to add insult to injury to his already ignominious night as New Zealand held on for a precious 86-82 win.
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