New Zealand have kept their chances of advancing to the second round of the FIBA World Cup alive with Corey Webster inspiring the Tall Blacks to a 93-83 win against Montenegro on Tuesday night.
Both teams had lost their opening matches of the World Cup in Group F on Sunday with the Tall Blacks losing to Brazil by eight points while Montenegro lost big to Greece by 25 points.
That made Tuesday’s clash critical for both nations in regards to their hopes of staying alive to move into the second round and while it was a tight, and at times heated, contest along the way, New Zealand did enough to prevail by 10 points.
The famous tempers of the Montenegrins threatened to boil over in the fourth quarter and New Zealand was able to take advantage to bounce back from another disappointing third quarter to dominate the fourth with 27 points to 18 to end up winning by 10.
Group F is shaping up as being fascinating. The winner of the game later on Tuesday between Brazil and Greece will all but book in a spot to advance.
Should Greece win, then if Montenegro can beat Brazil and New Zealand loses to Greece on Thursday, then the other three teams all finish on one win and it will come down to points differential.
However, a Greece defeat to Brazil and then should the Tall Blacks beat them as well, New Zealand can advance along with Brazil. But there’s plenty to be played out and the picture becomes clearer after Brazil plays Greece.
New Zealand ended up shooting the ball better than the talented Montenegro team with the Tall Blacks ending up going 28/62 at 45 per cent from the field and 11/25 from three at 44 per cent. Montenegro went 27/70 at 39 per cent from the floor and 10/38 at 26 from beyond the arc.
But ultimately the different was at the foul line with the Tall Blacks drawing 30 founds for the game and ending up at the charity stripe 33 times where they made 26.
Corey Webster continued to show he is gearing up for a big season in the NBL for the Breakers continuing his outstanding international form with the Tall Blacks with another 25 points, seven assists and six rebounds while hitting a phenomenal 6/8 from three-point range.
Isaac Fotu was a force inside too for New Zealand to finish with 20 points and seven rebounds while Tai Webster contributed 11 points and five assists, Rob Loe 10 points and four rebounds, Shea Ili 10 points and six assists, and Ethan Rusbatch six points and two boards.
Nikola Ivanovic top-scored for Montenegro with 18 points and seven assists while Orlando Magic star Nikola Vucevic finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Petar Popovic put up 13 points and four boards, and Bojan Dubljevic 13 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Both teams might have started with a loss on Sunday, but they came out firing two days later combining for 57 points in the first quarter with New Zealand leading 31-26 on the back of three triples from Corey Webster.
When Rob Loe hit from downtown midway through the second quarter, the Tall Blacks were out to a seven-point advantage and they went into the half-time interval leading 53-44 on the back of some frustrations from Montenegro beginning to spill over.
Montenegro then built some strong momentum in the third quarter putting up 21 points to just 13 from New Zealand and that saw them but the lead of the Tall Blacks to just a point at three quarter-time.
Petar Popovic put Montenegro up to start the fourth quarter before New Zealand responded with a Tohi Smith-Milner triple. Webster stretched the lead to five with another three and when he hit yet another, it was an eight-point ball game.
Montenegro was then feeling a pinch and was growing frustrated at the foul count. That led to a tech foul with four minutes to go and New Zealand would hold on from there for the critical 10-point victory.
FIBA WORLD CUP – GROUP PHASE
NEW ZEALAND 93 (Corey Webster 19, Isaac Fotu 17, Shea Ili 16)
MONTENEGRO 83 (Nikola Ivanovic 18, Nikola Vucevic 15, Petar Popovic 13, Bojan Dubljevic 13)