Serbia became the first nation to defend their U20 European Championship Men title with Most Valuable Player Milos Teodosic scoring 22 points and handing out five assists in an 87-78 victory over Spain in Sunday's final.
The title also meant the end of a golden generation for Serbian basketball as the nucleus of the team also captured the 2003 U16, 2005 U18 and 2006 U20 championships.
Serbian captain Milenko Tepic added 20 points rebounds, four assists and three steals in leading Serbia to their third U20 medal in three summers including bronze in 2005.
Serbia's crown from last summer in Izmir was still under the national flag of Serbia & Montenegro. But this team featured nearly the same roster which clinched the 2006 crown.
"I don't think anybody can beat us. And we're going to eventually show it in the senior team as well," said Serbian forward Nikola Dragovic, who won all four youth titles.
|Xavier Rey had a game-high 11 rebounds but his efforts were not enough for Spain|
The championship trophy was handed to Tepic though Ivan Paunic got his hands on it with 13.8 seconds left as it was standing next to the scorers' table.
"I feel absolutely wonderful. It's not every day you win a title of any championship. The U20 European Championship Men is just one step below the senior national team. I have so many emotions and it's hard to talk right now," added Serbian coach Vlada Vukoicic.
Spanish coach Juan Antonio Orenga said he was proud of his team, which improved on their U20 showings of 11th, 13th and 11th place in the past three summers, and took their third silver medal after 1996 and 2002.
"This is not the way you want to finish it, but we had a bad game. It was probably our first bad game and we picked a bad time for it. In the end, we finished second and I have pride in my team because in our dreams one month ago we never thought we would play in the final and have a chance to win in the last two minutes," the coach said.
As is typical of a championship game, both sides were feeling the other out. But the Serbians were dealt a big blow straight off as their play-maker Teodosic had to be substituted out with two fouls not even two minutes into the game.
Teodosic was whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul at the 8:44 mark and then got hit with another foul just 10 seconds later, forcing Vlada Vukoicic to take out his leader.
Spain pulled ahead 6-0 and Serbia struggled to find their rhythm offensively. They missed all five three-pointers in the first quarter. Still, the champs were still only down two points when Vladimir Stimac missed two free throws which could have tied the game with 24 seconds left in the period, which ended with Spain ahead 12-10.
But things could have been worse for the Serbians, who worked hard on defence and held Spain to just 4-of-20 shooting in the first quarter.
The Serb offence moved better with Teodosic back on the court to start the second quarter, and his driving lay-up tied the game at 14-14 a minute into the period.
Spain play-maker Sergio Llull took things into his own hands and came up big, draining a three-pointer, a driving lay-up and two more long bombs to push the Iberians ahead 25-21. And a break-away lay-up by Javier Beiran for 29-23 forced Vukoicic to call a time-out to settle down his troops.
Spain fouled Teodosic shooting a three and he made all three foul shots to cut the deficit to three. Llull was charged with an unsportsmanlike foul with 3:43 to play, but Serbia couldn't take advantage with Tepic missing both foul shots and Marko Djurkovic missing his jumper.
But Teodosic drained back-to-back three-pointers to give Serbia the lead 34-31. He also drove into the lane and found Tepic for an open three-pointer and Djurkovic's dunk completed Serbia's 16-4 run to close the first half ahead 39-33.
Two back-to-back turnovers from Serbia allowed Spain to tighten the gap to 41-39 early in the second half. But Teodosic hit a driving lay-up and found Paunic for an open trey on their way to a 48-41 advantage.
Serbia used the three-pointer to increase their advantage as Tepic and Labovic both drained two three-pointers over the span of five possessions to give Serbia a 60-50 lead. But Marc Fernandez knocked down his second straight trey and Vukoicic called another time-out after Pau Ribas's driving lay-up made it 60-55.
And it was just a five-point Serbia lead heading into the fourth as Albert Teruel scored just before the end of the third.
Spain quickly found themselves down 10 points again just a minute into the fourth - 69-59 - after a Teodosic trey and a break-away lay-up.
But Teodosic picked up his fourth foul with 8:33 remaining and had to head to the bench. Still, a three-pointer by Labovic kept the lead at 72-64. Teodosic returned with 4:45 to play and made a jumper to make it 76-68 with four minutes to play.
After a Paunic free throw, Spain coach Orenga called a time-out with his team down 77-68 with 3:24 left. Down 77-70, the ball just didn't want to fall for the Spaniards with Ribas's three-pointer rattling in and out and then Fernandez failed to will his reverse lay-up back in after it fell out.
Tepic split two foul shots with 1:22 to go and Ribas hit a lay-up to trim the deficit to 78-72. Dragovic made just one of two free throws and Rey's tip-in pulled Spain to within five 79-74.
But Teodosic and Dragovic both made two foul shots and Spain began missing desparation threes to get back into the game. In the end, it was not enough.
Llull paced the Spaniards with 24 points, Fernandez scored 14 and Ribas added 13 points.
Xavier Rey struggled offensively with just eight points on 4-of-15 shooting but had 11 rebounds. Still, Spain lost despite just seven turnovers.
Besides Teodosic and Tepic, Labovic and Paunic both scored 13 points while Dragovic chipped in six points and nine rebounds.