|Andrea Bargnani looked unstoppable as he poured in 34 points, draining 4 of 5 three pointers|
Andrea Bargnani poured in 34 points as Italy rounded off their EuroBasket Qualifying Round campaign with an exciting 72-71 win over Montenegro in Bari but it smacked of too little too late for the stuttering Azzurri.
While the result meant a fourth successive victory, it just took Italy too long to get going in Group A although this was nevertheless an impressive win.
In an interesting first quarter the home team opened up with seven straight points only for Montenegro to respond with nine in a row themselves and it was the visitors who prevailed 17-12 after the first ten minutes.
Still trailing 24-17 halfway through the second quarter, Italy really got their game together and a three by Belinelli completed an 11-3 run as they took the lead at 28-27.
However by half-time the pendulum had swung back the way of Montenegro as Goran Jeretin converted from outside to help them into a 34-32 lead heading into the locker rooms.
When the action resumed it was the turn of Italy to impress again and it looked like they were set to dominate after working their way into a commanding 59-44 lead with less than three minutes remaining in the penultimate quarter.
Just when it was most needed, the visitors began to launch a comeback and they scored twelve of the last thirteen points to change the momentum once again.
That set up a terrific last ten minutes of action and after a score by Nikola Pekovic the scores were level at 67-67.
A dunk by Tomas Ress made it 72-67 with two minutes to go and while Italy would not score again, Montenegro could only muster four free throws which meant they fell short.
Antonio Maestranzi supported Bargnani with 18 points for the home team.
Omar Cook had a productive night for Montenegro with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.