With just four players remaining from their 2003 EuroBasket championship team, Lithuania took a first step towards defending their title with an impressive 87-75 victory over Turkey in the teams´ opening preliminary round game in Podgorica.
Behind a 24-13 second quarter run and the offensive performance of Ramunas Siskauskas, Lithuania jumped out to a 46-28 first half lead. With questions swirling about Lithuania due to the absence of the core group from the 2004 Olympic and 2003 EuroBasket championship teams, the Lithuanians provided answers, shooting a blistering 61% for the game.
“Before this first game I was nervous because we did not have so many players that we had in the past,” confessed Lithuanian head coach Antanas Sireika. “But these guys responded and played well.”
Defensively, Lithuania were dominant, holding Turkey star Mehmet Okur to seven points. Okur, who averaged 18.8 points per game in the 2003 EuroBasket, was scoreless in the first half and didn't tally his first points until the end of the third quarter.
“Psychologically, this game was very important for this group of players,” said Lithuania´s Robertas Javtokas, who grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
The offensive onslaught continued in the second half as Lithuania opened the third quarter with an 11-4 run and increased their lead to 25.
Turkey outscored Lithuania 29-22 in the fourth quarter and at one time cut the deficit to seven points with 4:20 remaining in the game, but could get no closer.
Darius Lavrinovic, who finished with 14 points, hit a key three point field goal with under four minutes remaining to stop Turkey's momentum and secure the win for Lithuania.
“We need to have the same aggressiveness for the whole game, not just one quarter,” said Turkish guard Hidayet Turkoglu, who led Turkey with 14 points.
Siskauskas scored 16 of his game-high 20 points in the first half.
Lithuania will look to continue their winning ways against Croatia on Saturday, while Turkey will try to rebound from their loss by taking on Bulgaria.
NOTES : Lithuania´s roster includes six players making their national team debut. .... In his first game in the starting line-up with the national team, point guard Vidas Ginevicius finished with three points on 1/5 shooting.
Many questions surround the EuroBasket defending champion Lithuanian team. Some answers should be provided in Lithuania's first game when they take on Turkey in Podgorica on Friday evening.
Lithuanian basketball stars and key components to their success at international tournaments in recent years will be unavailable in the 2005 EuroBasket.
Sarunas Jasikevicius and Darius Songaila made themselves unavailable due to NBA commitments while veterans Saulius Stombergas and Eurelijus Zukauskas retired after the Olympics. Making matters worse for Lithuania were tournament-ending injuries to sharpshooter Arvydas Macijauskas and Dainius Salenga.
|Darius Songaila will not be at EuroBasket |
"We are still the defending champions and we know how to fight," he said.
The relatively young and inexperienced Lithuanian team will have an immediate challenge in taking on Turkey's deep front court featuring Mehmet Okur and outstanding all around talent Hedo Turkoglu.
"Our men will fight valiantly and they will try not disappoint our supporters," Sireika said.
Turkey enters their first EuroBasket game on a positive note following an impressive pre-tournament exhibition schedule, which included an 81-56 Efes Cup victory over Italy.
"This (EuroBasket) is real important for us, for our country and Turkish basketball," Okur said.
A solid first game against the defending champions should provide a big confidence boost for a team that finished second in EuroBasket 2001 before failing to finish in the top eight during in 2003.
GAME: B2 – Turkey vs. Lithuania
RECORDS: Turkey 0-0, Lithuania 0-0
KEY MATCH-UP: Robertas Javtokas, one of Lithuiania’s most experienced returning players, will attempt to slow down Mehmet Okur, who is considered one of the top big men in all of Europe.
INJURIES: LTU –Arvydas Macijauskas will miss EuroBasket due to an ankle injury. Dainius Salenga will also miss the competition because of sprained knee ligaments.
STATS: In the five qualifying games for EuroBasket 2005, Hedo Turkoglu was 10-17 from 3 point range and averaged 18.6 points per game.
OTHER NOTES: Sarunas Jasikevicius, Darius Songaila, Saulius Stombergas and Arvydas Macijauskas, all of whom are unavailable for Eurobasket 2005, accounted for more than half of the offensive production for Lithuania in the 2004 Olympics. The four players averaged 50.7 of the team’s 97 points per game.