Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne urged his batsmen to follow the example of New Zealand centurions Tom Latham and BJ Watling after a crushing defeat in Colombo.
New Zealand prevailed by an innings and 65 runs to secure a 1-1 draw in the two-match series after Sri Lanka wilted in the face of a disciplined bowling effort.
Despite persistent rain taking chunks out of the match, Latham (154) and Watling (105 not out) saw the tourists to 431 for six declared before Karunaratne's men subsided to 122 all-out on the final day.
The captain was forced to come in at number seven after suffering an injured quadricep – not that a clatter to 32-5 before lunch gave him much respite.
"At the end of the day we need to put our hands up and say we didn't do well," Karunaratne said at the post-match presentation, having scored 21 in a 70-ball stay alongside lone half-centurion Niroshan Dickwella.
"But once the batters get a start, we need to get a big one, like Tom and BJ did.
"Dhananjaya [de Silva] and Dickwella were the biggest positives, and the bowlers also did really well."
Dhananjaya's first-innings century came as wickets clattered around him and New Zealand captain Kane Williamson hailed a superb effort from his bowling attack.
Tim Southee brought up 250 Test wickets when he removed Karunaratne on Monday and his 2-15 from 12 overs stacked up impressively alongside Trent Boult's similarly miserly 2-17.
Spinners Ajaz Patel and William Somerville also took two apiece as the visitors bounced back from a six-wicket reverse in Galle.
"The spinners bowled really nicely in our most recent series in the UAE as well," Williamson said.
"The collective unit in this match – the seamers were really impressive – showed there was a little bit in that surface for everyone.
"It was a much-improved performance from us in this match. With the weather it was a great effort to push for a victory.
"It was an outstanding effort in the first innings, there were so many contributions and we scored at a rate that allowed us to move the game forward.
"Overall, it was a very good series against tough opposition. It deserved to be 1-1."