France found unlikely heroes from their bench with their stars struggling as they fended off a big scare from New Zealand in a 66-59 come-from-behind win at the end of the elimination play in the Manila FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
France turned on the switch in the fourth quarter with their bench mob sparking a 22-2 run that cooled down New Zealand’s hot start.
With stars Tony Parker and Nando de Colo struggling, France coach Vincent Collet had to dig deep to survive the Tall Blacks’ onslaught led by the Webster brothers.
Mickael Gelabale, Thomas Huertel and Kim Tillie conspired in that telling run in the final frame as France emerged on top of Group B and earned a semifinal face-off with Group A’s second seed Turkey on Saturday as the tournament takes a break tomorrow.
Gelabale had 11 points and 5 rebounds while Boris Diaw and Tillie added 10 apiece. Heurtel contributed 7 points and 4 assists.
Parker and De Colo struggled as New Zealand marked them defensively. The San Antonio playmaker finished with only 6 points while De Colo, the reigning Euroleague MVP, bled for 7 points after dropping 27 on Gilas Pilipinas in the tournament opener.
Corey Webster paced the Tall Blacks with 21 points while his younger brother Tai wound up with 9 after scoring 7 in the opening half.
Corey opened the fourth quarter with a jumper that gave them a dozen point lead, 50-38, but Gelabale strung up five straight points that sparked the French big windup. New Zealand will face Group A’s top seed and still unbeaten, Canada, in the semifinals. – By Alder Almo
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