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, it's very difficult to get back into the game."
Down 11-26 after the opening quarter, they whittled away at Macedonia's 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 team's 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, it's 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 today's big loss means they'll struggle on points differential.
"It's the Olympic dream," said Frank. "We're a bit down in the dumps right now, but we're 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."
Macedonia 84 (Bo McCalebb 23, Pero Antic 17, Todor Gechevski
New Zealand 62 (Alex Pledger 11)