|13 July 2005|
Italy are officially the "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" team of the ACI Trading Ltd U20 European Championship Men in Chekov after coming back from a huge deficit to stun Israel on Wednesday.
The Italians led hosts Russia by 21 points on Tuesday but lost 76-72, however, one day later Fabrizio Frates' men battled back from 19 points down to win 64-62.
The result throws the race in Group E for semi-final places wide open.
Russia face Greece later Wednesday, and if the hosts lose, all four teams will have one win and one defeat.
Should three teams finish in Group E with two victories and one defeat, then points differential between the sides calculated from the games they played against each other will determine which two countries advance.
Italy's fans and coach Frates must have feared the worse when Israel went on a 20-2 run to lead 29-10 with 6:13 remaining in the first half.
The spurt started with 2:39 left in the first quarter when Russian-born center Anton Kazarnovski made one of two free throws for a 10-8 lead.
Lior Eliyahu scored eight of his 19 points in the stretch, while Jonatan Nir weighed in with six.
Italy launched a stirring fightback with 1:19 to play in the first half when their outstanding Marco Belinelli scored on a lay-up and later split two free throws.
Belinelli stayed in the flow after the intermission, burying a jump shot to trim the deficit to 37-24.
Luca Vitali scored a lay-up and big man Luca Lechthaler buried a jumper to pull Italy to with 37-28 with 6:51 to play in the third.
Lechthaler would end up leading the Italians with 19 points and 17 rebounds. Belinelli capped the run with another lay-up to make it 37-30.
Israel managed to keep their noses in front until 5:19 remained in the game, though.
That was when 2.02m forward Matteo Canavesi drained a three-pointer to tie the contest at 54-54.
After an Israeli turnover, Lechthaler grabbed an offensive rebound off a Vitali miss and dunked for a 56-54 advantage - the Azzurri's first of the game.
Israel were not done.
They would twice more take the lead after baskets from Itay Greenboim and Eliyahu, but the charity stripe then decided the contest for Italy.
A pair of Lechtaler free throws after Kazarnovski's fifth foul created the last tie at 61-61. Avraham Ben Chimol, fouled by Italy's Michele Antonutti, missed two from the line and he fouled Belinelli, who gave his team a 63-61 lead with 33 seconds left.
Eliyahu was fouled by Lechthaler and made just one of two to leave his side trailing 63-62 with 23 seconds to play.
Israel then fouled Vitali, and he made just one of two from the line for a 64-62 lead.
With a chance to tie or take the lead, Yakov Zino's men threw their last chance to tie or win away.
Ben Chimol's errant pass with 11 seconds to play - one of his team's 19 turnovers in the game - ended Israel's hopes.
The Azzurri ran out the clock, not allowing the Israelis to foul. Israel take on Russia in their final game, while Italy take on Greece.