Italy survived with a thrilling 77-75 win at Finland in the Additional Qualifying Round for the EuroBasket.
The never-say-day Finns trailed in their fortress Vantaa by 13 points in the fourth quarter but staged a furious comeback and had a chance to win in the waning seconds but Teemu Rannikko was off target with a three-ball.
The Azzurri, who lost their opening game at home to France in overtime, are now 1-1 and firmly in the hunt for a place in the EuroBasket while Finland are 0-2.
|Marco Belinelli was the leading scorer of the game with 23 pts, going 10/18 from the field|
Finland will be hoping for an Italy win as well to keep their own hopes alive.
On Tuesday night, Italy dominated early on and led 17-10 by the end of the opening quarter.
They out-rebounded Finland 16-7 in the opening 10 minutes and the Finns, who shot so well from long range against France on Saturday, missed all seven of their attempts from behind the arc.
The momentum began to swing Finland's way when Italy's Andrea Bargnani picked up his third foul three minutes into the second quarter and had to leave the contest.
Though the Italians stayed on top, Henrik Dettmann's team eventually began to make inroads and outscored the Azzurri 15-6 over the last 3:38 over the frame to only trail 38-34 at half-time.
Italy's Marco Belinelli led all scorers with 10 points at the break.
The Finns kept the pressure on for the first 7:14 of the third quarter but Carlo Recalcati's players kept their noses in front before seemingly taking control with a 7-0 spurt for a 61-51 lead.
The advantage ballooned to 70-57 with 7:41 to play on a Belinelli three-ball and Finland appeared to be in trouble.
Rannikko, Bargnani and Petteri Koponen all drilled three-pointers to leave Italy in front at 73-63 when visiting captain Matteo Soragna was slapped with a technical foul.
Rannikko sank a pair of free-throws and Finland, who retained possession, then got a dunk from Kimmo Muurinen to close the gap to 73-67.
Fouled on the shot by Belinelli, Muurinen went to the charity stripe and converted the three-point play to reduced the arrears to just five points.
Following a Belinelli jumper with 4:52 to go, both teams went cold from the floor before Hanno Möttölä hit a jumper to take his haul to a team-high 16 points for Finland.
|Hanno Möttölä had an outburst for the Finns, converting 4/8 from the field and all his seven free throws for 16 pts|
Finland, upping the pressure on defense, then drew an offensive foul by Belinelli and Shawn Huff responded by nailing a three-pointer to pull the Finns to within 75-73.
With cracks showing in the Italian armor, Bargnani picked up his fifth foul and put Koponen on the line.
The young Virtus Bologna guard made two to knot the contest at 75-75 with 1:42 remaining.
Belinelli replied with a jump shot to restore the two-point edge, and neither side scored again.
Rannikko missed from behind the arc, but Marco Mordente turned the ball back over to Finland.
Koponen then failed to connect from long range with 25 seconds to go, yet Huff's offensive rebound kept the ball in the home team's hands with 25 seconds to play.
Rannikko bravely attempted the last shot with just three ticks on the clock remaining and missed, and Mordente hauled in the rebound.
Belinelli led all scorers with 23 points and Bargnani had 21 with a game-high eight rebounds.
Italy ended up out-rebounding Finland 37-29.
Head coach Carlo Recalcati, Italy:
"I want to congratulate Finnish team for a great game. They really caused a lot of trouble to us with their help defense and with their pressure on the ball. We were particularly prepared for making three point shooting more difficult for Finland and I think we did well on that part. In the end we lost our composure and concentration. Nevertheless I am happy we came up with a win, which was the one and only objective of the game for us."
Head coach Henrik Dettmann, Finland:
"It's heartbreaking. We were down, but still managed to come back and make a run for the win. In the locker room there were a lot of red eyes after the game. You can never be happy about a loss, but I can hold my head high and be proud of my players. You have to look at the big picture and see the progress we have made. Two years ago we were playing in Division B with other small countries and now we are playing even games with the likes of Italy."
Teemu Rannikko, Finland:
"The last possession is every player's dream situation; down by two, 15 seconds left on the clock and you get the chance to take the last shot. The three point shot I took has been a favourite of mine for 15 years. I got the defender off-balance and had a good look at it. But it didn't go in. Obviously, I feel bad for my team and for the great crowd we had, but such is basketball."
Marco Belinelli, Italy:
"We played well in the first half, moving the ball well and playing aggressive defense. Overall, though, I am not happy, because we could have won by 20 points. Six minutes before the end we were leading by 13, but I don't know what happened then. We only won by two points and I don't find that satisfying at all. I have to say we defended that last possession very well and Mordente took the key rebound."