By Daniel Aubrey
Comeback kings Serbia are the UMCOR U18 European Champions.
Down by 16 points in the second quarter, Serbia fought back and ultimately wore down an excellent Greek side to complete a clean sweep of gold medals in youth tournaments this summer.
U16 and U20 European champions, U19 World Champions, and now the U18 European gold spells a bright future for Serbian Basketball.
|The matchup between Milan Macvan and Konstantino Koufos was as good as advertised.|
“We’re going the right way. Four golds in the youth tournaments and hopefully another to follow in the seniors. It will be difficult, but we have a good future” said Coach Dejan Mijatovic after the game.
The expected dual between Serbia’s Milan Macvan and eventual tournament MVP Konstantinos Koufos was perhaps better than anyone foresaw, both men running up double-doubles yet again and producing a real spectacle.
Macvan finished with 32 points and 14 rebounds and Koufos with 33 points and 13 boards.
“Two golds in one summer!” exclaimed a delighted Macvan after the game, referring to his medal from the U19 World Championships.
He also had words of praise for opposite number Koufos; “I don’t believe it, I don’t know what happened. Greece is such a great, great team and Koufos…well, Koufos is perhaps the next David Robinson, he’s a great player. I don’t have words to describe him.”
But as well as big man Macvan Serbia showed they had men throughout their squad who could put up big numbers, and that eventually decided the difference as Dejan Mijatovic rotated his men to the maximum to run down a tired Greece team in the second half.
Stefan Stojacic was again shooting well scoring 21 points, and Dusan Katnic was decisive in the final quarter scoring 11 points to total 20 for the game.
At the start, with Koufos again dominating, Greece went on a 12-2 run which spanned the end of the first quarter and the start of the second to run up a commanding 37-24 lead.
|Dusan Katnic was key to Serbias comeback. |
That lead was stretched to 16 points when Koufos converted from two point range, taking his tally for the half to 20 points and making this final game decidedly one sided.
But Serbia, as was expected, came back in the third.
Macvan now took over the show scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds as Koufos could no longer find his range and Serbia brought the game to within two points with 1:24 left in the quarter.
But then the big Greek man recovered and so did his team, Koufos first slapping away a Stojacic shot with 42 seconds left before Sloukas converted a great trey unhindered by the Serbian defence to stretch the lead back to 65-58.
Then Koufos connected from three point range at the buzzer for Greece to enter the final straight 10 points clear.
The flow of the game then swung magnificently the other way as Serbia came back again, this time taking their first lead since the first quarter through Macvan with 2:59 left before Katnic extended it to 80-76 with 2:28 left.
Once in front Serbia, led by Macvan, were doing everything they could to stay there and going into the last minute they led by seven at 85-78.
Stojacic stretched it to nine points from the free throw line with 48 seconds to the end of the tournament.
It seemed like that that was it until with 13 seconds to go Covic turned the ball over stepping out of bounds, and Matalon threw the ball into Koufos who put it home to draw it within two points 91-89.
Covic extended the lead by a point to three with 11 seconds to go and as Greece shot for the three pointer they needed twice it never went in and Serbia piled onto the court in ecstasy.
“We’ve never had to win like this in all the tournament” said Mijatovic, referring to his side’s comeback from 16 points.
“I think we deserve this, for winning in this way, but also for beating all the favourites. Spain was the first favourite, I always said this, and we beat them. Now we’ve beaten a very good team (Greece) and I’m so surprised; my country, four gold medals”.
“We had a lot of pressure on us because of all the other gold medals”, he added.
“Under 16s, under 20s, under 19s and now under 18s too. I can’t believe it. It’s just amazing”.