After being down big in the fourth quarter, the French bench carried the France national basketball team, 66-59, over the New Zealand Tall Blacks national basketball team to top Group A of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines.
With 21st-ranked New Zealand in control for most of the game, 5th-ranked France, being down by as much as 12 points in the final period at 38-50 with 9 minutes to go, relied on their second unit to bring them back into the game, all the while with French stars Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Nando de Colo on the bench.
The bench trio of Mickael Gelabale, Sam Tillie and Thomas Huertel conspired for an 18-2 run to turn the game completely around and out on France in front, 58-52, at the 4:35 mark, prompting New Zealand coach Kim Henare to call a timeout. Henare’s timeout, however, enabled France to sub in their starters. France’s former Spurs trio then sealed the win for ‘Les Bleus.’
“We’re happy to win this game because during three quarters New Zealand was dominating the game,” said France head coach Vincent Collet of New Zealand who dominated the offensive rebounding 20, compare to Les Bleus’ eight, enabling the Tall Blacks to lead for most of the game.
“We were not ready for their aggressive level, we didn’t much up well agressively because we were surprised the way they were helping very fast on defense.
“In offense, we got some problems until the last quarter because our ball movement was poor.
“We did it better in the last 12 mins.” Collet added.
Gelabale led the French with 11 points and five rebounds while Kim Tillie was efficient as he had 10 points on a 4-of-5 shooting clip. Huertel chipped in seven crucial points to go along with four assists and three rebounds. On the other hand, the Webster brothers continued to lead New Zealand as Cory had 21 points and three assists while Tai tallied nine points, eight rebounds and two steals.
The win set up top-seed France to face the number 2-seed of Group A, Turkey, on Saturday at 9 pm for the crossover semifinals while New Zealand will face Canada on the same day at 6:30 pm.
France: Gelabale 11, Tillie 10, Diaw 10, Huertel 7, De Colo 7, Lauvergne 7, Parker 6, Kahudi 4, Pietrus 2, Moerman 0.
New Zealand: C. Webster 23, T. Webster 9, Fotu 8, Abercombie 6, Loe 6, Ili 4, Bartlett 3, Vukona 2, Ngatai 0, Anthony 0.