Serbia beat Spain 59-48 in Rethimnon tonight in what might be a preview of Sunday’s final.
The result means that Serbia finished undefeated to top Group E and will face Lithuania in one of Saturday’s semi-final while the other will be a match-up of the last two champions in this competition, Spain and Turkey.
Even though they had already secured their places in the semi-finals of the competition prior to this game, the top two teams in Group E didn’t take this contest lightly – in fact quite the opposite.
Both Serbia and Spain were intent on winning the group in order to secure the better draw for Saturday’s games and, for some, to have a mental edge should they meet again in the decider.
‘We came into this game with the goal to win the group to have an easier game on Saturday but also we wanted to beat Spain to have an advantage over them if we played them in the final,’ said Serbia team manager Mirko Pavlovic afterwards.
Serbia jumped out to a 9-2 start before Spain fought back to trail by just one, 15-14, at the end of the first quarter.
The defending champions then used a 6-0 run early in the second period to turn the momentum in their favour as they took a 29-28 lead at the break on a pair of baskets by Oscar Alvarado Rodriguez.
But Dragan Vascanin’s men got back in front on Nemanja Jaramaz’ lay up early in the third quarter and then stretched their lead as their opponents saw their offense start to stagnate.
Branislva Djekic’s lay up late in the third period gave Serbia a 10-point cushion, 39-29.
However, Spain scored another six unanswered points to trail by just four heading into the final quarter.
Musli made a pair of free-throws to restore the double-digit lead, 47-37, and Serbia held on to take a win.
Spain’s coach Josi Ramon Cuspineda said he wasn’t looking as far as Sunday.
‘We played this game to put us in a good position for Saturday’s semi-finals, not for Sunday’s final. What’s the point in thinking about the final if you can’t be in it? So that’s why we wanted to win to have a good draw to improve our chances of getting to the final,’ he argued.
‘Serbia were much better than us today. They are so big and strong, and not just under the basket, but also on the perimeter. We have to improve a lot before Saturday and hopefully we will be ready for our semi-final against Turkey who are an exceptional side.’
Musli had another big performance with 13 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks. Jamaraz also had 13 points.
Spain were led by Jaume Solang Puig and Alberto Jodar who both had 10 points.