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Race to FIBA WC further intensifies as Lebanon bows to New Zealand

The "Tall Blacks" celebrate after a made basket. FIBA
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA—New Zealand bounced back from a sluggish third quarter to beat Lebanon, 69-67, in a crucial FIBA World Cup Qualifiers clash at the Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex in Zouk Mikael, Lebanon early Saturday (Philippine Time).

Tom Abercrombie scored the game-winning triple with 18.8 seconds left as the Kiwis gave the Lebanese side a dent in its bid to make the FIBA WC.

After appearing to be held at halftime, Lebanon suddenly came alive in the third quarter, outscoring New Zealand, forcing a 52-all deadlock entering the fourth.

The game went back and forth in the final frame until Mika Vukona found Abercrombie open from top of the key to give New Zealand the lead.

Wael Arakji had one more chance to give Lebanon the win at home, but he missed his three-point attempt and Vukona picked his inbound pass with only 0.4 second left.

Abercrombie finished with 19 points, two rebounds, two assists, and two steals for the already qualified New Zealand, which moved up to 10-1 in Group E play.

Finn Delany added 15 markers and eight boards.

Ali Haidar put up 16 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, and two steals for Lebanon, which, coupled by Jordan's huge win against China earlier Saturday, fell to a three-way tie with the said nations for third to fifth places at 6-5.

The result further complicated the race for the last spots in the FIBA World Cup as Jordan, Lebanon, and even Gilas Pilipinas need to beat their last opponents and hope that at least one of the other two loses to get in.

Jordan will host New Zealand, Lebanon takes on South Korea at home, and Gilas plays at Kazakhstan at simultaneous 10:30 p.m. tip-offs Sunday night (Philippine Time).

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno