Serbia made a big statement on the opening night of the EuroBasket qualifying campaing with a 78-64 road win over Italy in Cagliari.
Italy were left shorthanded with the NBA trio of Danilo Gallinari, Andrea Bargnani and Marco Belinelli absent, but this was still an impressive victory for Dusan Ivkovic's young squad, who were themselves without the injured Darko Nikilic.
In the absence of such star names, it was Efes Pilsen guard Milos Vujanic and Partizan Belgrade forward Novica Velickovic who took over the lead role in powering Serbia to victory.
However, it took them until the fourth quarter to break the backs of their hosts.
When Daniele Cavaliero made a three-pointer for Italy with 33 seconds to go in the third period, Serbia's lead was just three, 54-51.
But they then went on a 24-4 run sparked by Velickovic's lay-up, to put the result beyond doubt.
Vujanic led the Serbs with 16 points, shooting a perfect eight of eight from the free-throw line. Velikovic made four of five (80%) from two-point range en route to 15 points, also adding 11 rebounds.
Kosta Perovic also reached double figures with 11 points.
Italy were led by 18 points from Treviso guard Marco Mordente, while Luigi Da Tome had 12.
"We knew it would be a very tough and difficult game. And it was. To win we should have played a perfect game, because our opponents have very talented players, young, but with three or four years of experience in Euroleague. We could not handle their centers, and their shooting percentage was so much better than ours. Let's put it this way: we played the ace in our sleeve, and now we cannot afford to make any more mistakes."
Marco Mordente, player Italy:
"We were not able to remain focused during the whole forty minutes of the game. Serbia is a very good team and in the second half we did not play at our best. Losing this game is not a tragedy; anyway, we have still seven games to go. So we take what we did well and we will use it in the next game against Hungary."
Milos Vujanic, player Serbia:
"It was a very important game for us, probably the most important to be ranked as first in the group, because we had to play against Italy and on the road. And we were ready to play this game, for which we had been preparing for a very long time. We had a few mistakes at the beginning of the third quarter, but we controlled the pace all the time and we deserved this crucial win."
Dusan Ivkovic, coach Serbia:
"We had problems only in the third quarter, when we let Italy to tie the game. After a timeout we started to work better over details, to play our defense on all external positions up to the power forward. And we found the solutions to play also good offensive plays, for what was an easy win at the end. It's just the first game, we're not thinking about the future but that from Cagliari we bring back with us some positive news, to help us practice better for the next game. We have a very good atmosphere in our team, we have young but talented players. We took a hard blow with the loss against Iran at the FIBA Diamond Ball, and tonight my players showed that they had learned their lesson."