What seemed unconceivable a few days ago has become reality as France advanced to the semi-finals following an 82-72 win over Italy at the UMCOR U18 European Championship Men in Greece.
As the final buzzer sounded, the French team rejoiced at half court, a sight that would have been difficult to fathom just a few days ago after France lost to Iceland.
“It is a special win,” said French coach Richard Billant.
|France's defense on Pietro Aradori was key to their win.|
“Our goal was to make it to the semi-finals and now I think we will win the title.”
Following their blow-out win over Greece a night ago, France led basically start to finish but had to work hard against an Italian that refused to go away in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 59-53 after three quarters, Italy was able to cut the deficit to three (71-68) with 5:12 remaining following a three-pointer by Pietro Aradori.
France’s Adrien Moerman answered by making a driving lay-up to push the French lead to 73-68.
Following a turnover by Italy’s Andrea Renzi, Antoine Diot scored two of his game-high 20 points to put France up 75-68 with 3:08 to go and Italy would get no closer from there.
“We are playing strong and we are playing like there is no pressure on us,” said Billant.
France took advantage of a 51-31 rebounding advantage.
Nicolas Batum added 14 points for the French and Alexis Ajinca tallied 10.
Aradori scored 20 for Italy, but shot 9-of-26 from the field.
“Defense was the key to the win, especially because of the way we guarded Aradori,” said Billant.