Despite another standout showing from Corey Webster, the brave FIBA World Cup campaign of the New Zealand Tall Blacks came to an end on Thursday night at the expense of Greece and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Tall Blacks gave themselves a genuine chance of moving through to second round by beating Montenegro on Tuesday after opening their 2019 World Cup campaign in China with a loss to Brazil on Sunday.
The equation was simple, beat Greece and they would advance but as a genuine medal chance led by the ‘Greek Freak’, the job was always to be ahead of the Tall Blacks.
However, New Zealand fought the entire way against the odds opposed to Greece and the game certainly had an eventful finish with tempers spilling over, tech fouls handed out aplenty and the officials trying to stamp their authority on two committed and passionate teams.
In the end, things went the way of Greece and they held on for the six-point win to advance to the second round and end a campaign for the Tall Blacks they deserve to be enormously proud of.
On the back of a standout performance on Tuesday against Montenegro, Corey Webster again was the standout for the Tall Blacks showing he is primed for a terrific NBL season with the Breakers.
He ended the night against Greece with 31 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals while shooting 11/18 from the floor and 7/12 from three-point territory.
Tom Abercrombie delivered 18 points and six rebounds too for New Zealand with Tai Webster contributing 17 points and three assists, Isaac Fotu 15 points and three rebounds, Shea Ili nine points and nine assists, and Rob Loe five points, six rebounds and three assists.
It was no surprise for Giannis Antetokounmpo to lead the way for Greece with 24 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals on shooting 6/10 from the field and 11/15 from the foul line with his team taking 37 foul shots to 25 for the game.
Ioannis Papapetrou added 16 points for Greece, Nick Calathes 14 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals, Georgios Printezis 13 points and three boards, and Giannoulis Larentzakis nine points.
Greece started well coming off its loss to Brazil leading 9-4 after a triple from Giannis Antetokounmpo but Corey Webster was keeping New Zealand within striking distance continuing his momentum.
When he hit a second triple of the first four minutes, he put the Tall Blacks in front 12-11 before he found Shea Ili for a layup to make it a three-point advantage.
Ioannis Papapetrou responded with a three for Greece to tie scores up and they continued the momentum from there to go into quarter-time leading 28-19.
Greece’s lead grew to 12 early in the second period and despite the Tall Blacks continuing to fight, they still led 51-44 at the main break.
The Greek lead remained around the double-figure mark most of the third quarter but the Tall Blacks made a run just before three quarter-time and were down just five heading into the fourth.
The Greece lead grew to nine with another three from Papapetrou and then 12 thanks to a triple from Georgios Printezis.
Ili found Abercrombie for a dunk to spark New Zealand’s fight back and it was just a five-point game when Rob Loe knocked down a three.
Things were really then beginning to heat up with both teams knowing what was at stake. It became a game of free-throws the rest of the way after Nick Calathes hit a three to put Greece up 10.
In the end, tech fouls on Ili and Paul Henare for the Tall Blacks with only one for Greece on Kostas Sloukas, brought an end to the New Zealand charge.
Even still, Webster hit another triple to go to 31 points to keep things interesting and then Abercrombie hit another, but Greece held on for the six-point win in quite the eventful final five minutes of the Tall Blacks’ campaign.
FIBA WORLD CUP – GROUP PHASE
NEW ZEALAND 97 (Corey Webster 31, Tom Abercrombie 18, Tai Webster)
GREECE 103 (Giannis Antetokounmpo 24, Ioannis Papapetrou 16, Nick Calathes 14)