by Yarone Arbel
After a hard nosed fight Italy are still alive thanks to a 71-59 win over Greece in a Group E clash of the U16 European Championship at Sports Hall Topolica in Bar, Montenegro on Tuesday evening.
Italy got their debut win in the Qualifying Round and now stand on 1-3 while Greece missed a chance to move closer to the quarter-finals and now stand on the same record.
Aristide Landi had 28 points and nine rebounds for the winners followed by Yancarlos Rodriguez with 10 while Matteo Imbro came very-very close to a triple double with nine points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Ioannis Papapetrou led Greece with 17 points but also eight turnovers, Dimitrios Siologkas added 11 and Kyprianos Maragkos added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The final score doesn't reflect what happened in the game as the teams were tight for most minutes, and Italy's top lead was actually the final score after the Azzurini ran 12-0 in the last three minutes.
The lead changed hands four times and the score was tied no less than nine times in a tough battle for a win by both sides.
"For us it was a win or die game and I'm very happy that we stayed alive," said the Italian coach Gaetano Gebbia.
"The players were a bit down after the recent losses but we played against very good teams until now.
"We went to the foul line 24 times and that's more than any game before and for me this is the big difference.
"When you don't drive the defense has an easier time to stop you, and today we finally attacked the rim and got the points from the line."
Italy also used 27 turnovers by Greece to limit their threat and make the final run.
The Italians opened the first gap taking an 11-4 lead, but Greece answered with nine points in a row, only to see Italy reply with a run of their own, this time 10-2 to hold a 23-19 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Papapetrou was on fire and pushed his team back on top with a 26-30 lead, but once again the final word was spoken by Italy who used Landi with seven points in a row to create an 11-1 run and now take a 37-31 lead after 20 minutes of basketball.
Papapetrou and Maragkos were in charge of Greece's points after the break, but Italy remained on top, just not for long.
Greece found the way back and despite not taking the lead in their hands tied the score again and again until Ioannis Karamalegkos scored a three pointer to set a 59-59 tie.
Landi, as always, stepped up with a good streak and scored six in a row, while Greece turned the ball over four times, which allowed Italy to have a strong finish and remain in the race for the quarter-finals.