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Moon rises, Korean hope still alive
GRAN CANARIA (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - The crowd at Gran Canaria Arena couldn't believe what they were seeing.
Enthusiastic groups of Korean and Angolan supporters had settled in for the crucial clash for both teams' Round of 16 hopes, but early on the FIBA Asia bronze medallists effectively sabotaged their chances of winning.
When the dust settled after 20 minutes, they had shot a remarkably wayward 6-of-34 from the field, the result of rusty shooting hands after 30 days without a competitive hit-out.
"The last real game we had was against New Zealand," said Moon Taejong.
"Those games were good for us because we felt like we got a lot better against good competition, but that was a month ago."
Moon had been hoping the team could "shake the rust off", and the half-time break did the trick as they cut an 18-point half-time margin to just four with a quarter to play before they eventually succumbed to an 80-69 defeat.
Moon's role in the turnaround shouldn't be underestimated, settling his nervous teammates with a patient veteran display.
The 38-year-old wasn't the focus of the offence like at his last tournament, the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, but in his 20 minutes on-court the Koreans outscored their African rivals by seven.
"With that team my role was a lot bigger," he said thinking back to the continental championship played in Wuhan, China in September 2011.
"This year I feel like we have a lot more balance on the team and I think that balance makes us better."
The biggest changed he has noticed is the mindset of his younger teammates.
"A lot of the guys, instead of looking to me or one of the other main guys, on this team every player feels like they have the responsibility to be able to make something happen," he said.
And that leaves Moon free to make plays when the need arises, something he couldn't do three years ago with defences and his country's expectations squarely focused on him.
"My role is clutch scoring when we need it," he said, while his four assists on opening day were equally impressive.
"This year is a lot more relaxed and I know my limitations."
Despite ultimately falling to Angola by 11, the real Korea was revealed to the world in the second half and their goal for the tournament hasn't changed.
"Our main goal is to win at least two games and get that fourth spot at the least," said Moon.