|14 August 2009|
By Yarone Arbel
After a tough road to the Final Round Lithuania, the hosting team of the Omnitel U16 European Championship Men, qualified to the top four of the championship after a 68-60 win over France.
Lithuania is the second 4th seed team to eliminate a Qualifying Round group champion, after Serbia kicked out Russia earlier today.
Tomorrow the hosts will take on the Cinderella of the completion - Poland.
The two teams met earlier in the championship, on the second day of Group B, when Poland shocked with a 67-64 win.
Lithuania now get a chance at revenge.
The win also bestows Lithuania a ticket to the U17 World Championship next year together with the other three finalists.
France dropped a game for the first time in the competition, and in the worst timing, on their way to the 5-8 classification games.
Shooting only 18 out of 70 attempts in the critical game wasn't enough against a very enthusiastic hosting team.
"I have always believed in my players, even when they were in tough situations," said the Lithuanian coach Darius Dikcius.
"Before the game we spoke about the keys for the win and what we should do, and the players have executed everything we spoke about," he added.
A close game with a small French lead for a half and a bit didn't survive once Lithuania stepped up on both ends of the floor.
Tauras Jogela had another big performance with 19 points and 11 rebounds while Tomas Lekunas had 11.
Hugo Invernizzi had 17 points for France, but 14 of them in the first 12 minutes. Charly Maraux added 14 with nine rebounds while Livio Jean-Charles added ten points and eight rebounds.
Lithuania wrote nine block shots against a very athletic French team, which exampled just how much they were after the win.
The first quarter saw Invernizzi on fire with 11 points out of the 15 the entire French team wrote.
On the other end Lithuania had five players share 13 points, and keep their team only two points behind at the end of the first quarter.
Invernizzi added a three pointer right after the teams returned to the court, and Jean-Charles added points, but Lithuania with a smart zone defense stopped France from taking off.
Jogela and Lekunas were active on the scoring board, but France had Maraux to combine ten points before the finish line of the first half, and give his team a 34-28 lead at the break.
Inside the second half it was still Jogela who scored seven quick points followed by Lekunas who gave Lithuania a 39-38 lead with a three pointer off a Jogela pass.
France didn't find the way to score and allowed a 10-0 run.
Lekunas added another big three right before the fourth quarter kicked in, and increased the gap to 49-42.
The quick Ulysse Adjagba set France just four points behind, 54-50 with five minutes to play but then came the last Lithuanian blitz.
Seven unanswered points put the hosts 11 points on top, and the fans were ecstatic, but it wasn't over yet.
Anthony Racine hit a three ball and in the same play came an off-ball foul on Soria Bangura, who scored twice from the line to make it just a six point game in one play, but that didn't last long.
Rokas Narkevicius and Jogela scored five in a row, to once again make it an 11 point game with 93 seconds to tick, and that was too much for France to handle.
"Everybody is very tired now, but we'll have to find the way to have energies tomorrow against Poland," concluded Dikcius.