By David Hein
Zoran Planinic missed two foul shots with 1.02 seconds remaining, allowing Lithuania to hold off a motivated Croatia 74-72 and book their spot in Saturday's semi-finals against Russia.
Darius Songalia scored 20 points, grabbed seven rebounds and gave Lithuania the winning basket with 46 seconds left.
Linas Kleiza collected 19 points and nine rebounds and Sarunas Jasikevicius dished out
eight assists as Lithuania remained the only perfect team in the competition.
|Zoran Planinic led Croatia with 16 points but missed critical free throws down the stretch.|
"It should have been an easier game, but it was very difficult for us psychologically. Croatia are a very good team, but every team in the quarter-finals is good," said Ramunas Siskauskas, who was held to just two points.
"We were a bit nervous at the beginning, but not in the final seconds and that's what helped us to the win."
Lithuania are hoping to repeat their 2003 run to the EuroBasket title - which they won with a perfect 6-0 run.
The Baltic powers are going for European crown number four.
Croatia limped into the quarter-finals having lost their last three games after beating Spain, but Jasmin Repesa's men gave Lithuania all they could handle, especially Planinic, who collected a team-high 16 points as well as three rebounds, five assists and seven steals.
The Tau Vitoria guard however missed when it meant most.
After Marko Popovic was off target on a three-pointer with three seconds left, Planinic was fouled with 1.02 ticks remaining. He missed the first and then purposely missed the second and Lithuania ran off the clock for the win.
Popovic finished with 12 points and Marko Tomas added 10.
Croatia, who will play France in the 5th-8th classification games, shot themselves in the foot, making just eight of 19 foul shots (42%) while holding Lithuania to 40% shooting (23-of-58) for the game.
“We were able to get a last-second shot but unfortunately, it didn’t go in," said Tomas.
“Tonight, we suffered at the free throw line."
Lithuania struggled to find their rhythm offensively early on and committed two turnovers while watching Croatia jump ahead 9-3 with Planinic scoring seven points. Back-to-back three-pointers by Popovic kept the Croatians ahead 17-11 before the Lithuanians pulled to within 19-17 after the first period.
Planinic had scored 13 points as Croatia led 33-32. Kleiza answered with a three-point play and a three-pointer for a 38-33 Lithuania lead, but the Baltic defense allowed Marko Tomas to score off an inbounds pass for a 38-35 half-time lead.
Ramunas Butautas's team again couldn't find their form early, making just one of seven shots and giving up three turnovers while Croatia went ahead 44-41with a 9-3 spurt.
A Songalia three-pointer made it 53-49 for Lithuania - only to see Marin Rozic and Damir Markota drain back-to-back treys for a 55-53 Croatia lead going into the fourth.
Lithuania opened the final quarter on an 11-3 run to charge ahead 64-58 but Croatia refused to give up but Kleiza and Simas Jasaitis knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to increase the cushion to 72-65 with three minutes remaining.
A Tomas three-pointer cut the led to 72-70 with a minute left.
Songalia drained a jumper for a four-point lead, but was then called for an unsportsmanlike foul on Planinic with 27 seconds left.
Planinic made two foul shots to set up the drama in the waning seconds.