Teenager Tai Webster underlined his promise with a 21-point scoring spree in the Tall Blacks' 68-64 win over Angola at the Olympic basketball qualifying tournament in Venezuela early on Thursday.
But the win wasn't enough to keep New Zealand's Olympic hopes alive: crushed 84-62 by Macedonia early on Wednesday, they needed to beat Angola by an unlikely 27 points to advance to the quarter-finals.
Webster, 17, stepped up for the injury-depleted Tall Blacks, who were missing stars Kirk Penney and Tom Abercrombie.
He led all scorers with 21 points, including five three-pointers, and provided the offensive spark in a game that developed into a grim defensive battle.
The New Zealanders came out strongly, running up the first seven points of the game before Angola troubled the scorers.
But the Tall Blacks again struggled with early foul trouble, veteran Casey Frank and captain Mika Vukona both collecting a brace in the first quarter.
Angola converted their chances, shooting eight from 10 at the free-throw line to trail 12-14 at the end of the first spell.
Led by Webster and Leon Henry, the Tall Blacks cut loose in the second quarter, building up a 40-26 lead at halftime before Angola battled back to narrow the gap to 58-52 at the three-quarter mark.
Any slim hopes of making the quarter-finals evaporated in the final spell as the New Zealanders' error rate started to climb.
But point guard Lindsay Tait stroked a three-pointer - his first points of the encounter - added another basket and snatched a crucial offensive board to keep the game safe.
The result meant Group D finished in a three-way tie, but the Kiwis' 22-point loss in their opener stymied any hopes of advancing.