After facing a double-digit deficit heading into the last change, the Boomers found their rhythm, cutting the lead to as little as two points before China steadied and claimed the hard-fought victory.
It was an inspired final period by the home team, with debutant Chris Goulding scoring seven of his nine points in the quarter, only for late free throws from China to hold off the impressive comeback.
In his first game as the Australian Boomers Head Coach, Andrej Lemanis ushered in a new era, giving six players their first senior games for Australia.
Lemanis praised the defensive efforts of his team in keeping them in the contest, despite a poor shooting night.
“For a team to shoot 31% from the field and 11% from the three-point line (and to be in the game late) is testament to our defence, our grittiness and willingness to stay with it and give ourselves a chance to win,” Lemanis said.
“Our defence was good to keep them to 61 points and in the last quarter to disrupt them and get after them, giving ourselves an opportunity to get out and run.
“The fact it was a new group and we only turned the ball over 12 times (was impressive).”
It was an historic tip-off for the Boomers, with Goulding, Cameron Gliddon and Anthony Petrie (team-high 10 points) making their international debuts in the starting five.
Both team started slowly as defensive pressure dominated the early minutes. It was 30-year-old Boomers debutant Petrie that kicked started the home team’s offense, scoring four of the Boomers first six points.
The visitors gained the ascendency going into the second quarter and held a 24-17 lead late in the half before the Boomers rallied, with Daniel Johnson finding his range to cut the margin to just three points at the main break.
China started strongly after the restart, pressuring the Boomers into mistakes, while slowing building an advantage on the scoreboard – going on a 13-4 run to open the third quarter.
Lemanis wasn’t afraid to give his young team a chance to impact the game, giving college stars Cameron Bairstow and Igor Hadziomerovic their first taste of international basketball.
This momentum carried China to a 46-33 lead at the final change, outscoring the Boomers 20-10 for the third period.
It was a different Boomers outfit that started the final quarter, forcing China into uncharacteristic turnovers, going on a 7-3 run to cut the lead to single digits as the crowd started to get behind the home team.
China managed to slow the Boomers momentum and maintain their advantage as Zhizhi Wang showed why he has represented his country at five Olympic Games, with two crucial baskets on his way to a game-high 17 points.
This did little to stop the determination of the Boomers, with a big Goulding three-pointer and free throws cutting the lead to four points inside three minutes to go.
With both teams in the penalty, free throws became the currency points, with China going on a stretch of 2-of-6 from the line inside the last minute.
This kept the Boomers in touch right to the closing seconds, but China held their nerve late to claim Game One of the Sino-Australia Challenge.