25 August, 2023
10 September
21 Ioannis Papapetrou (GRE)
Game Report
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Greece overturn 15-point deficit to snatch Second Round ticket

MANILA (Philippines) - There are holes, and then there's whatever Greece dug themselves into against New Zealand. They were down by 15 points before climbing out with a sublime second half in the Mall of Asia Arena, winning the game 83-74 to claim the last ticket to the Second Round from Group C.

Greece thus avoided their worst finish ever, because they reached the sweet 16 phase in each of their previous eight appearances at the summit. Make that nine now!

New Zealand's defeat was celebrated in Okinawa, since Australia advanced to the next round, they claimed the Oceania ticket to the Olympics in Paris.

Turning point: Whatever Dimitris Itoudis told his players in the locker room at halftime, it must have been inspiring. All of a sudden Greece forced New Zealand to commit consecutive turnovers, without even allowing them to take a shot for a couple of minutes in the third quarter.

That alone was enough to start trimming the gap to single digits, then to two-possessions, then to one possession, and when Giannoulis Larentzakis scored eight points to start the fourth quarter, the majority of 5,625 in attendance could breathe a sigh of relief.

Greek fans came in numbers and got to see an outstanding effort on both ends to get out of that 15-point deficit and into the Second Round.

TCL Player of the Game: Ioannis Papapetrou loves playing against New Zealand. His previous World Cup career-high was 16 points against New Zealand in 2019, and he kept Greece in this one in the first half, before getting a huge couple of shots in the fourth quarter to help Larentzakis' charge.

Papapetrou finished with a team-high 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-7 from deep, and he had 6 rebounds as well.

Stats don't lie: Having 21 turnovers doesn't sound all that horrible, worse things have happened. But Greece converted New Zealand's 21 turnovers into a 29-6 advantage in points from turnovers, crucial when you consider how stale the Greek offense was with 20 points in the first 15 minutes of action.

Once they got the stops, they were able to run and turn the tables.

Bottom line: Fans in Greece will have an easier day after this stressful afternoon, and maybe this kind of a comeback win gels the team even more together as they prepare for Lithuania and Montenegro in the next round. One win is a must, probably even two if they want to make it back to the Quarter-Finals for the first time since 2006.

Meanwhile, New Zealand will feel heartbroken. They were as close as they could get to the Second Round, but it wasn't to be. Shea Ili and Reuben Te Rangi combined for 46 points, they need more of the same to finish as high as possible in the Classification Games 17-32.

They said: "The tournament is not over yet. We've got something to play for. Guys need to what they need to do tonight, get their heads right, get their bodies right, but come tomorrow's game, that's all that matters. I have nothing but confidence in every single player in that locker room and our coaching staff and our support staff, and it shows. Yes, we've got some things to work on, but my confidence never wavers with this group that we have." - Jordan Ngatai, New Zealand

"It stands out hugely here, our turnovers, 21. It's something we've addressed in past games, and I felt we did a pretty good job early, they had a lot more opportunities and shots and possessions with our turnovers and their offensive rebounds, just made the task that more difficult." - Pero Cameron, New Zealand head coach

"We're not a team that's going to have a lot of isolations, we need to dig deep into the shot clock, running that ball, and we have seen in the friendly games that we can play team ball, that we can share the ball, we have had 23 assists, 19 assists... This is who we are. And our identity on the defensive end, it gives us a lot. You get a boost from a good defensive stop." - Dimitris Itoudis, Greece head coach talking about defense fueling his offense

"Doesn't matter. I respect and love that you guys dive into that stuff and that's part of what makes sports so fun, but I'm pumped that we won the game and we bought ourselves another day. That's what we're excited about. Thanks for the stat, but we keep going." - Thomas Walkup, Greece, talking about becoming the fourth player with 7+ assists in each of his first three World Cup games, alongside Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder and Heissler Guillent