Two tough matches were contested on the first day of the FIBA Melanesian Cup with the Solomon Islands triumphing over Papua New Guinea, and New Caledonia holding out Fiji.
Despite a gallant effort from Fiji, New Caledonia held out the fast-finishing Fijians by 2 points after leading by 14 at half-time (64-62). Even the support of the home crowd was not enough, with New Caledonia gritting their teeth to secure the win.
Raymond Weber from New Caledonia led the way with 17 points and 9 rebounds with point scoring support from Steeven Sillant (8), Ilalio Subiranas (7) and from the bench, Ahau Fenuafanote finished with 7.
“We began the game with a fighting spirit and our young players were tough and they adapted throughout the game which contributed to our win,” Weber said. “I wanted to win and I wanted to show the young players how to do it, so that’s how I played like I did tonight.”
In a fierce battle under the rim, Mataika Koyamainavure took it to Weber shooting 23 points of his own for Fiji, but it wasn’t enough for the FIBA Melanesian Cup 2017 bronze medallists. Weber enjoyed the battle with Koyamainavure and said his mental strength played a huge part in the duel. “There is a big difference in weight between us so having a good, tough mentality made the difference,” Weber said.
The first game of the day was a physical encounter with the Solomon Islands outlasting Papua New Guinea (77-65), with Max Grantham shooting 13 points in the last quarter to steer his team to victory.
“We feel great right now, the boys put in a good effort, and I think we wanted it a little bit more, we can in as the underdogs, but the boys fought hard and there isn’t much else I can say, really proud of the boys,” Grantham said. “I think I could be a little bit better, I had a couple of turn overs and missed a few easy shots and some free throws, but I’m glad it all worked out in the end, and we can out with the win.”
While brothers Coni and Apia Muri fought hard for Papua New Guinea, inaccuracy cost the team in the dying stages of the match when team fouls came into play and Solomon Islands pounced.
“Everyone played their role, they played hard, and it was a well-deserved win,” said Grantham after the game. “We played at our pace and didn’t let PNG determine the outcome, just played our game and knocked down the free throws at the end.”
The FIBA Melanesian Cup 2022 continues today with Papua New Guinea Vs New Caledonia at 2:30pm (local time) and Fiji coming Vs Solomon Islands at 5pm (local time).
The top two teams at the Melanesian Cup will qualify for the 2023 Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands. The Pacific Games then serves as the official qualifier for the Oceania region to the FIBA Asia Cup Pre-Qualifiers.