Corey Webster scores 39 as NZ Breakers get payback win over Melbourne

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Corey Webster got mad, then he got even.

The New Zealand Breakers shooting guard produced a virtuoso offensive display in front of just under 7000 fans at Vector Arena on Sunday to all but single-handedly secure a sumptuous 80-69 Australian NBL victory over league leaders Melbourne United.

But it was more than just a much-needed tick in the win column. It was also payback for the Breakers on their November 8 87-86 defeat in Melbourne when every man and his dog knew they were robbed by a referee howler. The defending champions had been simmering ever since, waiting, with a chip on their shoulder, for just this moment.

They couldn’t have done it without a career-high 39-point explosion from Webster who outgunned his celebrated Melbourne opposite Chris Goulding with a world-class display of marksmanship. It was the NBL’s highest scoring effort this season as the Kiwi made 13 of his 25 field goals, and seven of his nine attempts from beyond the arc. He had 14 points in the first and fourth quarters, just two in the second and nine in the third term.

The total beats Webster’s previous best in a Breakers singlet by four points and was just a point off providing exactly half his team’s total output for the game. “Yeah, that was that free-throw he missed at the end,” joked Breakers coach Dean Vickerman.

It was an important win for the Breakers, too, extending them to 7-4, and level with the Perth Wildcats in second. Melbourne have now lost three straight and at 9-3 are not quite the indomitable force they looked to be when they’d won their first nine on the bounce.

The Breakers are also off to a record 6-0 start at home and have won six of their last seven games to well and truly assume the mantle of the league’s hottest side.

Webster admitted afterwards payback had been a motivating factor coming in, but said “I wasn’t thinking about that during the game. I was just trying to help the team wherever I could get the win”. He also said it was “satisfying” to topple the league leaders in such fashion. “They’re where we want to be, and we’re working our way up there.”

And on his own hot shooting from distance?

“When you hit a couple you start to feel good about yourself, and the rim seems like it gets a little bit bigger. But it’s credit to my team-mates for getting me so open. When you’re that open at this level most people make wide open shots.”
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Cedric Jackson added 10 points (5/10 FG). nine rebounds and five assists for the Breakers, while Tom Abercrombie (nine points, seven boards) and Mika Vukona (six points, six rebounds) were the best of a supporting cast that contributed in cameos.

Goulding paced Melbourne with 19 points (6/16 FG) but missed all seven of his three-point attempts, while Stephen Holt had 17 points (6/19 FG) and Daniel Kickert 13 for the visitors.

After a bright enough opening quarter, where Webster’s quickfire 14 points propelled the Breakers into a 23-22 lead, the offence rather dried up over the second period.

The Breakers has just nine points for the spell on four-of-23 shooting and were probably lucky to go into the major break down just three (35-32). Ten offensive boards helped, and luckily the visitors didn’t exactly catch fire themselves, making just four of their 16 shots for the stanza.

Things stayed tight in the third, and when Everard Bartlett nailed an unlikely buzzer-beating fadeaway jumper the home side trailed by just a point (51-52) with one to play.

From there it was all about the C-Web show as Webster nailed four triples over the run home and the Breakers coasted to the most satisfying of wins. The Kiwis shot a tidy 46 percent for the game and kept the league leaders to just 36 with some excellent defence.

Melbourne coach Dean Demopoulos paid a handsome tribute to Webster’s offensive masterclass afterwards.

“I thought we defended him OK for the majority of the time, but he made some terrific shots. They got him open, they went to him, and that’s what champions do.”

He also agreed with a suggestion that right now Webster was the Steph Curry of the NBL. “That’s a good analogy. He was tonight,” the United coach said. “There are a lot of good players in this league, a lot of fine players, but Corey is at the top of the list for sure. That was a great, great performance.

“I’ve seen Kobe [Bryant] get 60 on us [in the NBA], and seen great players get high numbers. That, to  be honest, was about as quiet a 39 as you get. It was very efficient — he had a hell of a game.”

Next up for the Breakers is the Wildcats in Perth on Friday.

NZ Breakers 80 (Corey Webster 39, Cedric Jackson 10), Melbourne United 69 (Chris Goulding 19, Stephen Holt 17, Daniel Kickert 13). 1Q: 23-22; HT: 32-35; 3Q: 51-52. 

 – Stuff.co.nz MARC HINTON

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