By Yarone Arbel
Lithuania is the first finalist at the Omnitel U16 European Championship Men after a 70-63 triumph over Poland in a very close and exciting Semi-Final.
To get the top spot on the podium Lithuania will need to beat the winner in the upcoming game between Spain and Serbia.
Poland deserve every superlative in the book for a great match and a more than worthy path all the way to the Semi-Finals.
They still have a chance to win a historical medal for Poland, when they fight for the bronze in the third place
game tomorrow against the loser of the second Semi-Final.
|Mantas Mockevicius had the way for Lithuania with 17 points.|
Tomas Lekunas' second free throw with 11 ticks on the clock jumped on the rim twice before sinking in, to make it a three possession game, and that was too much to cover even for the fighting Polish team.
Mantas Mockevicius led the winners with 17 points but the real force today of Lithuania were the back up guards, who covered for the weak shooting day of the team's top scorer - Tauras Jogela who had only four points in poor accuracy.
Martynas Paliukenas kept his tournament high for the best moment with 16 that include three perfect hits inside the arc in addition to three downtown bombs out of four attempts.
Back up point guard Paulius Semaska tied his tournament high with 13 points.
Lekunas finished with nine points and nine rebounds.
"I'm very, very happy that after such long tournament we made it to the finals," said the winning coach Darius Dikcius.
"Our pressure on defense helped us put Poland in trouble."
"I hope my guys have enough energy for the finals tomorrow after the big effort they put out in the last two days."
Polish sharp-shooter Michal Michalak led his team with 16 points but only five in the second half.
Piotr Niedzwiedzki showed every reason why he's a big talent with 14 points, eight boards and three blocks. While big guy Przemyslaw Karnowski added 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks and Mateusz Pontika had nine points and ten rebounds.
Poland once again dominated the paint and won the rebounding war 49-39 but the big difference was the turnovers.
In the last four games Lithuania averaged more than 23 turnovers per game, but in the fight for the finals, they showed great concentration and had only two turnovers in the second half while finishing with a total of seven against 20 by their rivals.
Nevertheless, this was a hard fought game and despite being down most of the second half Poland showed great character and didn't give up until the last seconds.
Niedzwiedzki was on fire at the starting minutes as his team took a 9-2 lead, but made two quick fouls and hit the bench.
Paliukenas collected seven points already in the first quarter to make it just an 18-15 game in favor of the Polish team after ten minutes.
Michalak was on fire from close and far distance, but Mockevicius wrote his first points, six in a row, to lead Lithuania to their first lead, 32-28.
Another long distance hit by Michalak kept Poland close and at the half there were only two points separating the teams, 37-35 for Lithuania.
Jogela was more active in the first minutes of the second half, and together with Semaska and a tough team defense pushed the team forward.
Semaska with big plays set the gap on 10, 46-36 after 24 minutes, but Poland was far from giving up.
Karnowski, who finished the first half with just a single point, got the ball in better positions and started to create points.
Pontika with a big job on the boards completed the come back all the way to 52-51, but Paliukenas hit a corner three to keep his team on top.
Niedzwiedzki was on fire again and his three pointer silenced the fans that saw Lithuania behind once more, 56-55, but it didn't last more than a few seconds.
When the games tied at 58-58 it was time for action.
The three guards - Mockevicius, Paliukenas and Semaska - used the Polish zone defense to score and cap a 10-0 run, as the local fans were on fire.
Ignas Ramasauskas had a chance to shut the curtain down on Poland with a big follow-up dunk but missed and Karnowski with a three point play at the other end kept Poland alive with 2:10 to play.
Lithuania found trouble to beat the shot clock and Michalak made it just a five point game with 59.9 to go and Poland with the ball, but that's as close as it got.
Tough defense by Lithuania under the boards kept their net silent, while Lekunas at the other end secured the win following a big offensive rebound.