By David Hein
Greece's already-storied 1989-90 generation added another chapter to its legacy by defeating France 90-85 to capture the gold medal at the 2009 U20 European Championship.
Seven players including all five starters scored in double figures led by tournament MVP Kostas Papanikolaou's 15 points as the golden generation added Greece's first ever U20 gold to U18 gold in 2008 and silver from this month's U19 FIBA World Championship.
Kostas Sloukas, Georgios Bogris and Charalampos Giannopoulos all scored 14 points; Leonidas Kaselakis had 11 points; and Nikos Pappas and Vlantimir Giankovits each chipped in 10 points.
|Edwin Jackson nearly won the game by himself for France with 32 points and eight rebounds.|
"Everybody is exhausted. That's the reason we won because we all gave everything we had," said Greek center Zisis Sarikopoulos, who was one of seven Greek players to win both medals this summer.
"This is a special moment. Another gold and first in Europe. We want to enjoy this moment. Every medal is special. This is special because we are at home in Rhodes with our friends and family," said Pappas, a member of the U19 All-Tournament Team in New Zealand.
"Oh man, I am very tired, very tired. I want to go somewhere far away. Away from everybody and relax."
"It's fabulous. I don't know how to tell you how I feel. This summer, this year closed the best way. I am in the clouds. It's amazing, perfect. Today is our day," added Bogris.
France guard Edwin Jackson poured in a game-high 32 points and recognized that the better team won Sunday night.
"Even though we don't have the gold medal around our necks we can leave Greece proud. We made history tonight," said Jackson, who won France's first ever silver medal.
"We did everything we could and played really hard. I don't think we could have done much else to win. We got beat by the better team. And if you get beat by a better team than you have to accept it."
Antoine Diot - selected as a member of the All-Tournament Team - added 21 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals. And fellow All-Tournament Team colleague Kevin Saraphin chipped in 10 points, six rebounds and two blocks.
France had the better start to the game using Seraphin's inside advantage against Bogris to grab a 12-7 lead. And Les Bleus were ahead 14-11 when the Greeks started hitting from long range. Pappas began the run and Papanikolaou drained long balls from both sides of the court in helping Greece build a 22-16 lead after one period.
Kostas Missas's men remained hot in the second quarter with Sloukas hitting from down town and Papanikolaou's third trifecta opening a 12-point bulge - 28-16. And it was 31-19 when France began to pull back into the game without Sarikopoulos, Papanikolaou and Sloukas in the French line-up.
Jackson and Seraphin had room to operate, combining for all 13 points in a 13-6 run to bring Jean-Aymi Toupane's team within 37-32. And Thomas Heurtel's break away layup made it 39-37. Giankovits answered with a three-point play and Pappas hit from long range with the shot clock running down and the Greek lead was 45-39 at intermission.
Jackson nailed triples from both sides to lead an 8-0 France run out of the break for a 47-45 lead. Heurtel later hit from the right wing and Jackson followed with another three-ball as France built the lead to 59-50.
Greece, however, would score on their next six possessions, including two Giannopoulos three-pointers for a 64-61 Greek lead after three periods.
Giannopoulos's next triple gave the hosts a 10-point gap - 71-61. The French were able to trim the deficit back to five points, but the Greeks were just too balanced and motivated.