The Tall Blacks have suffered a setback in their bid for late inclusion in the New Zealand Olympic team, falling 62-84 to Macedonia in their opening pool game of a qualifying tournament in Venezuela. Without several of their leading players, the Kiwi men suffered an early blow when captain Mika Vukona and fellow forward Leon Henry both gathered quick fouls and headed for the bench. Macedonia scored the first 12 points of the contest and New Zealand struggled to make any headway into that lead for the rest of the encounter. Once they got on that roll, it gave them a lot of confidence, said veteran forward Casey Frank. Once an experienced team like them gets that confidence, its very difficult to get back into the game. Down 11-26 after the opening quarter, they whittled away at Macedonias advantage over the next two periods and finally reduced the deficit to single figures entering the final stretch. But the Europeans answered with 12 straight points that squashed any hope of a dramatic comeback. Centre Alex Pledger stood out for the Tall Blacks, recording a double double of 11 points/11 rebounds and leading his teams dominance around the boards. New Zealand out-rebounded their opponents 43-27, including 13 at the offensive end. But turnovers hurt them badly they gave the ball away 21 times and they shot just 35% from the field. Without the scoring punch of Kirk Penney and Tom Abercrombie both injured Pledger was the only Kiwi in double figures. In the end, our shooting let us down, said Frank. When you shoot that poorly, its very difficult to come away with victory. The Tall Blacks face Angola tomorrow a win would create a three-way tie in their pool, but todays big loss means theyll struggle on points differential. Its the Olympic dream, said Frank. Were a bit down in the dumps right now, but were not going to give up on ourselves. At any given moment, on any given day, anything can happen. If we go out and give our best effort and play to our abilities, we can get the result we need. FINAL RESULTS MACEDONIA 84 - NEW ZEALAND 62 Q1 26-11 HT 44-31 Q3 60-48 FT 84-62 London 1908 Olympic Summer Games Basketball
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