Greece wrote another chapter in their storied basketball history by beating Lithuania 57-50 to capture the nation's first ever gold medal at the U18 European Championship Men.
Kostas Sloukas led Greece with 16 points and Kostas Papanikolaou hit two free throws and tipped in another missed foul shot over the final 44 seconds to secure the victory for the host Greeks.
George Vlassopoulos's team did not score their first basket until one minute left in the first period but controlled the proceedings after gaining the lead. Nikos Pappas added 14 points, Papanikolaou had 10 points and Zisis Sarikopoulos added eight points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots.
|Greek captain Nikos Pappas receiving the winner's trophy by the FIBA Europe President George Vassilakopoulos |
"This is an amazing feeling. We played great defense and it's an honour to win this gold medal, especially after missing out on it last year," said Sarikopoulos, who was part of the Greek U18 side which last summer lost in the gold medal match against Serbia.
The gold medal will join Greece's other honours which include 1970 and 2007 silver and bronze in 1998, 2000, 2002.
"Now that we have gold here we have a big tournament next summer. Hopefully we can get a medal then as well," said Pappas, referring to the 2009 U19 FIBA World Championship, for which Greece are qualified.
Lithuania go home with silver, to match their second-placed finish from 2006. Vitoldas Masalskis's team was hoping to capture the proud hoops nation's first gold medal since 1994.
Donatas Motiejunas, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, did everything he could, scoring 17 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, swiping two steals and blocking two shots. But he did not get enough support as the team shot just 2-of-21 from long range and Tautvydas Slezas was held to three points - though he had 14 rebounds.
Both teams started the game with jitters as the first basket wasn't made until Motiejunas's lay-up with more than four minutes played. Augustas Peciukevicius hit a driving lay-up for a 6-0 Lithuania lead and the home fans were growing restless as their team continued to miss one shot after another. Sloukas gave some temporary reprieve with two foul shots for Greece's first points at the 4:40 mark of the first quarter.
But Mantas Kadzevicius drained a wide open three-pointer to push Lithuania ahead 11-2. Sarikopoulos finally hit the Greeks's first bakset with 53 seconds to play in the first - after 13 missed shots by Vlassopoulos's troops. Sarikopoulos blocked Kadzevicius back down the court and Pappas hit a driving lay-up to cut the deficit to 11-6 after one period.
Leonidas Kaselakis converted a three-point play to start the second period and bring Greece to within 11-9 only to see Kadzevicius's driving lay-up pushed the gap back to 16-11. Lithuania missed two straight triples and Pappas drained a three-ball to even the game at 16-16 with 5:40 left in the half. A break-away lay-up by Pappas off a turnover gave Greece their first lead of the game at 20-18 with 4:40 remaining in the half. Kristijonas Gaska would give Lithuania the lead back on a three-pointer with 20 seconds left, but Pappas answered with a trey of his own just before the half-time buzzer for a 27-25 Greece lead.
|Tournament MVP Donatas Motiejunas was not enough to beat the Greeks in the final|
Slezas knotted the game at 28-28 early in the second half and it was still tied after Gediminas Bertasius's jumper for a 32-32 score. Sloukas knocked down a three-pointer for a 39-34 advantage and after three straight defensive stops, Papanikolaou hit a three-ball of his own as the advantage grew to 43-36 with less than a minute left in the third. But Kadzevicius hit a driving lay-up just before the buzzer to trim the deficit down to 43-38 going into the fourth.
Bertasius opened the fourth and it was 45-42 after Motiejunas's basket with 6:43 to play. But the Greek defense strung together six stops and Papanikolaou's foul shot completed a 7-0 run for a 10-point lead - 52-42 with two minutes left. Bertasius's jumper finally ended the Lithuanian scoring drought of nearly four minutes. Papanikolaou made two foul shots but Sloukas hit just one with 32 seconds left and Bertasius trimmed the margin to 55-50.
Kaselakis missed both free throws with 22 seconds to play but Papanikolaou tipped in the second miss for the final scoreline - and the title.