Scotland fall short of medal in thrilling Kiwi matchup, as they lose 79-69, taking 4th place at Gold Coast.
The underdogs were the Scots again as they faced off against New Zealand and faced the electrifying Kiwi Hakka before tip. However, regardless of today’s result, they had already made history; this was the first Scottish team to make a semi-final at the Commonwealth games.
New Zealand basketball had the same idea for their national squad as Scotland with the majority playing at the one club, the New Zealand Breakers in the Australian NBL. This set a juicy matchup between the nations as Kieron Achara won the tip.
Gareth Murray came flying out as he sunk a 3 on the first possession, followed by a deep three from Jonny Bunyan giving Scotland an early 6-0 start. Scotland started unexpectedly – according to the TV crew, as Achara converted a putback and Murray sliced the Kiwi defence for an easy 2, pushing it out to a 10-3 lead. Scotland’s defensive troubles seemed to be eradicated as they closed out hard and forced New Zealand to make tough shots.
New Zealand took a reality check and chipped away at the lead, closing the game to 12-9 before Bunyan connected with Ali Fraser for the sweet dunk. Mika Vukona personally took care of the Kiwi’s offensive issues as he battled down low and gave New Zealand a 15-14 lead with 4 minutes remaining in the first period. Despite the game being close, there was a 4-minute period where New Zealand went 14-4, making Rob Beveridge ask questions of his squad.
Youngster Sean Nealon-Lino hit a corner three to give his team a 21-19 lead in the final minute. The last possession went to the Scots that came to no avail but they held that 21-19 lead at the end of the 1st period, plenty of positives early on.
Both teams traded baskets to start the 2nd period. Mike Vigor starting well early and looking strong under the basket. The “Tall Blacks” showed why they had been dubbed that as they crowded the basket and had 3 players on the floor towering over youngster Kyle Jimenez as he tried to get a shot off.
Achara attacked the basket and drew the foul as he hit both free throws to give his boys a narrow 25-24 lead. Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare called timeout to instil discipline in his men as the game was tied at 27. It paid off as they creeped out to their biggest lead of the game, 31-27 that forced Bevo into a timeout as the last bucket for the Kiwi’s came far too easy. Thomas Abercrombie hit a 3 off a beautiful fake that pushed the lead to 7. Scotland became plagued with turnovers that resulted in open baskets for the Kiwi team, giving them a 36-27 lead with under 4 minutes remaining till half time.
St Mirren veteran, Nick Collins became a focal point for both team’s offences as he scored consecutive buckets. The lead grew to 10, causing for a sense of urgency in the Scottish offence, but patience was needed. Both teams were in team fouls and Scotland saw this as an opportunity to close the gap as they forced the referees to blow their whistle allowing them to get to the line. Scotland crawled back as they only trailed 41-35 at half-time.
The second half started with Achara not in the game and not visible on the bench that left everyone in the arena shocked, wondering what was troubling the Captain while he received treatment behind the bench. Murray and Vigor held their own as they teamed up to cut the lead to 4 as they battled down low under the basket. Midway through the 3rd and Scotland were forcing turnovers on the Kiwi’s as they cut the lead back to 5 and looked as if the momentum was shifting.
Both teams were working the post, New Zealand having a small advantage with their superior height difference. 51-42 was the score as Beveridge called time as they trailed, looking to regain momentum. Murray was forced into another shirt as he had his own covered in blood forcing him to take an extended unwanted break that helped the Kiwi’s on this run.
Both teams dried up on offence as there was no baskets scored in a 3-minute spell, causing for concern from both squads as the crowd begged for a basket. The Kiwi’s answered and extended their lead to 15 in the last minute of the 3rd. They closed the quarter leading Scotland 59-44.
Bunyan beat the shot clock and the tough defence to open the scoring in the final quarter as Scotland left it late to get a shot up. Fraser fought hard under the basket as he put a few scores together but for it all to be undone by the hot shooting of the Kiwi’s behind the arc. Vigor helped out on the effort down low as he grabbed offensive rebounds to get the putback.
The Tall Blacks were shooting like the Australians from 3, not seeming to miss and holding their lead between 14 to 17 points. They also held Scotland to 18 points through 15 minutes of 2nd half basketball. The tough defence was followed by an offence that repeatedly asked questions of Scotland’s interior defence.
Fraser Malcolm hit Scotland’s first 3 since the first quarter and then drew an offensive foul, sparking some fire into the side with just over 2 minutes remaining and the deficit at 13. Freethrows were hit by Malcolm who followed it up with a three. The once 17-point lead was down to 8 as the fight back was absolutely terrific. Bunyan snagged an offensive rebound and was fouled, Kiwi team fouls sent him to the line as he could close the gap back to 8.
Abercrombie was not going to allow a comeback as his 24 points turned to 26 with a tough finish at the rim over Achara. New Zealand were too much to overcome for Scotland as the final score was 79-69, New Zealand winning the bronze medal.
Unfortunately, there is no medal for 4th place and Scotland fell short in two huge games. However, the world watching appreciated the journey that Scotland had taken. We must remember, Scotland went out and at the start a medal was a long shot. Scotland went out to the Gold Coast not expecting to win a single game. Scotland went out and defied the odds and achieved a huge amount of success for Scottish Basketball. We are all very proud of each member of the team and thank Rob Beveridge for his services leading us to a major tournament semi-final.