Lithuania surged ahead in the second quarter and withstood a furious Turkish comeback attempt in the fourth quarter to win 87-80 in the semi-finals of the UMCOR U18 European Championship Men.
The Baltic giants have won seven consecutive games and are now one victory shy of the gold medal.
Paulius Kleiza’s three-point shooting in the first half keyed Lithuania’s 21-9
|Zygimantas Janavicius scored 14 points for Lithuania.|
“I was feeling good,” said Kleiza, who finished with 18 points.
“I wasn’t even thinking, just shooting.”
Martynas Gecevicius, who finished with a team-high 19 points, punctuated the second quarter by drilling a three-pointer from the top of the key with three seconds remaining, putting Lithuania ahead 48-30 at the half.
“I think that was our best quarter in this tournament,” said Lithuanian head coach Rutjanis Paulauskas.
“We were playing great defense, our bench was doing a good job and we were doing well on the fast break.”
The second half would be a different story as Turkey cut the deficit to 10 after three quarters (63-53) and were able to get within two points in the game’s final minutes.
Baris Hersek led the comeback, scoring 25 of his game-high 33 points in the second half.
A dunk by Rokas Uzas and a lay-up from Zygimantas Janavicius gave Lithuania a 70-53 lead with 7:14 to go in the fourth quarter forcing Turkish coach Orhun Ene to call timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, Turkey scored six straight. Hersek hit a three and Dogus Balbay made a driving lay-up and was fouled on the play. He hit the free throw to bring Turkey within 11 and minutes later came up with a steal and break away lay-up to make the score 73-66 with 4:54 remaining.
|Zygimantas Janavicius and Paulius Kleiza celebrate from the Lithuanian bench.|
“We didn’t play with the same speed in the second half,” said Paulauskas.
“We lost control and we forgot how to play against the zone press.”
Following an empty possession for Lithuania, Turkey had the opportunity to complete the comeback by tying or taking the lead, but Hersek misfired on a jumper with 2:40 left in the game.
Moments later Lithuania went ahead 80-75 on a jumper by Gecevicius, but Hersek again came up with clutch baskets, making a lay-up and three-pointer in between a pair of Lithuanian free throws to bring Turkey to within two once again, 82-80 with 1:05 remaining.
Lithuania turned the ball over, but Atlay Özurganci had his shot blocked and Hersek couldn’t convert on the put back.
“We didn’t take advantage of our opportunity to tie the game because we made some minor mistakes on offense,” said Ene.
Pranas Skurdauskas made one of free throws with 26 seconds to go and Gecevicius sealed the game by making four straight.
“I don’t what to say,” said Gecevicius.
“I am so happy we are playing for the gold medal.”
“This is unbelievable for our group,” said Paulauskas.
“This whole tournament we never put together a complete game,” commented Ene.
“Sometimes we played well, other times we didn’t.”
“It is difficult to beat a team like Lithuania once you go down 18 points.