Corey Webster reflects after scoring 21 points in Italy upset

Radio Sport, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 27 August 2019, 7:51PM
Corey Webster finished with 21 points for the Tall Blacks. Photosport

The Tall Blacks rounded out their World Cup preparation with an upset 88-82 victory over world number 13 ranked Italy in Anshan, China.

Corey Webster led the team superbly, not only with his 21 points (seven of 16), but with six assists, a figure matched on the night only by his brother Tai.

Ethan Rusbatch continuing a superb tour with 11 points (three of five from deep) while Isaac Fotu finished with 11 point and six rebounds.

Playing their third game in three days, New Zealand was in control throughout the encounter, establishing an early lead outside the arc with seven three-pointers dropping in the first quarter alone, and nine at halftime (from 16 attempts).

The Italians simply had no answer to the quick ball movement and pace of the New Zealanders, who defied the schedule and the odds with one of the bigger wins in Tall Blacks' history.

The Tall Blacks shot the three at 50 percent and had 18 assists compared to just eight for the Italians, underlining their philosophy of sharing the ball and looking for one more pass and an open look.

Head Coach Paul Henare was delighted for his players, not just in the performance, but to savour a victory over a world class team prior to heading to Nanjing and their first group game against Brazil on September 1st.

"We have been battling hard for a few weeks now and the schedule we have put these guys through – I think this was our fifth game in seven days against quality opposition, and that has been tough. For our boys to be able to hang mentally tough and walk away with a win was really pleasing for them to get the reward and that winning feeling against a world class side," Henare.

Henare said the obvious improvement was in the shooting stats, with the open looks being converted tonight.

"We are a team that relies on three-point shooting, it is our job as a coaching staff to provide a system that gets them enough open looks. We felt like we had a few against Serbia last night but couldn't knock them down, but the game is a lot easier when you keep the scoreboard ticking over from the three.

"To go 15 of 30 speaks volumes for the guys hanging tough. Our bigs have shot the ball phenomenally well, Rob Loe has been very consistent, and Tohi Smith-Milner has come on superbly and been consistent from the three for us, but I am happy for all of our guys to knock those shots down."

One stat that glared out at the head coach that he would rather not see however was the turnovers, with 25 coughed up by the Tall Blacks.

"We have actually been pretty good up until tonight, maybe it is a combination of mental fatigue, but we were well short. We lost the possession game; we lost the rebound battle and turned the ball over too many times."

The Tall Blacks now head to Nanjing to put the finishing touches on their preparation and freshen up for the match against Brazil on September 1, buoyed by a quality win against a quality Italian side with plenty of NBA and Euro League experience on their roster.