After day three of the qualifying matches for the U-18 European Championships division C, there are no teams without a loss. Latvia lost after two overtimes. Georgia performed a miracle in the last 100 seconds, and France beat the current champions Croatia.
Italy celebrates after thriller with two overtimes
All the thrills of basketball were on display in the dramatic meeting between Italy and Latvia. Italy were the victorious team after a 98:86 double overtime win.
In the first half of the game Latvia attempted to build a lead, but their opponents from the south were fast on their heels with Marco Belinelli (28 points with 11/32 shots) in the lead.
Andris Biedrins was undoubtedly the key figure for Latvia (26 points and 20 rebounds) and it appeared appeared that the 213cm tall center was alone in the battle with Italy. When after the fifth foul Biedrins had to leave the game, Italy went to 71:64 with only 90 seconds remaining in the game. Then the Azzuri missed the chance to seal victory, allowing Latvia the to outscore them 7:0, and level the scores after 40 minutes.
Even after the five minute extension the drama did not end. The teams took turns with minimal leads, and with the success of Belinelli's free throw the second overtime started. At that point the court was governed by one team. Italy made a fast and powerful series of plays (9:0) and with it took victory out of the reach of its opponents.
The hero of today's 98:86 win was the 201cm Michele Antonutti who scored 12 of his 20 points in overtime play.
Finland drops +12 in just 100 seconds
It is clear how the appealing Fins are raising the quality of their game with every match. Today that was felt by Georgia, who needed to perform miracles to manage a narrow win.
Georgia's relaxed players gifted Finland a 28:12 lead in the 16th minute of play. By halftime the Georgian team managed to close that gap due in part to a series of three pointers. All five successful shots behind the line 6.25 were the work of George Tsintsadze, all five made in the remaining four minutes.
The end was still unexpected when at the start of the fourth quarter the score went to 62:47, led by Finland's 209cm Joonas Suotamo (20 points and 16 rebounds). This development was unacceptable only to the Georgians, even after the scoreboard showed 69:57 with 1 minute and 40 seconds remaining.
The sleeping Manuchar Markoishvili finally awoke and in 10 unstoppable points diminished the gap. Prior to this deciding period, Markoishvili had struggled, missing all 12 of his field goal attempts. Other than the aggressive defense, the full credit for the turnaround goes to the points of Viktor Sanikidze. Georgia's center calmly made all of his free throws.
It is notable that for a 72:69 win Georgia attempted a remarkable 45 3-pointers, making just 13. Today's exceptional Finnish team was led by the before mentioned Suotamo, followed by Turo Lehtonen with 21 points.
Cisse stops Croatia in the Last Quarter
The clash between two good teams at the end of the third day resulted in quality basketball and, right up until the last quarter, equal play; however, in the last ten minutes France played significantly better.
At the start the home team had a small advantage, since the Croatian centers managed to stop Johan Petro. When they could not advance in 'the paint' the French went on the offensive in the forwards. In the first half, 195cm Sourata Cisse scored 11 points, then continued with a series of plays that led "Tricolors" to victory.
12 baskets by Cisse in the third created a 59:57 lead for France prior to the fourth quarter. It was at this point that the Croatian team 'stopped'. On the one side the French defense became too powerful, on the other side the unstoppable Cisse (30 points) took advantage of that. At the end of the match, when the question of the winner was already answered, we were witness to powerful slams, stellar blocks and moves which the objective crowd applauded. France celebrated, 79:59.
In the last quarter the home team managed to hit the opponent's basket only once. This was achieved by 212cm Jure Lalic who was the first name in the Croatian lineup with 14 points (5/5 shots) and eight rebounds.
"Everything we managed was due to an excellent defense, from that stemmed all the action on the other end of the court, all the slam-dunks, shots and hits. Plus we had Cisse. My teammate Cisse shone tonight!" said an exuberant Michael Mokongo.