Greece booked their ticket for the final of the U18 European Championship Men by dismantling Croatia 82-62 in the semi-final as four players scored in double figures.
Kostas Papanikolaou scored all 19 of his points in the first half while Leonidas Kaselakis added 19 points of his own for the Greeks, who return to the championship match for a second straight summer in hopes of winning the nation's first gold at this age group.
Nikos Pappas added 15 points and Kostas Sloukas chipped in 13 points and 11 assists as the hosts shot 59 percent for the game while holding Croatia to 32 percent from the field.
"That is one of the good things about this team. We have so many guys who can score that you cannot prepare for us," said Evangelos Mantzaris, who came from the bench for five points and five rebounds.
|Nikos Pappas was again in fine form for the Greeks|
"But now we want gold after missing it in the final last summer."
For every good Croatia action, the Greeks had an immediate answer and then usually two or three more to follow. And by the time "The Final Countown" was playing over the gym's PA system after the first quarter, the game was pretty much over.
Tomislav Zubcic paced the Croatians with 13 points and 11 rebounds while Toni Prostran had 15 points and Sven Smajlagic had 11. Greece held Mario Delas - the tournament's leading scorer coming into the semi-final - to just six points.
Croatian coach Vladimir Vanjak started the game with Leon Radosevic in the starting five instead of Zubcic. And the move back-fired as Greece opened with an 8-2 run and Pappas's break-away lay-up made it 15-5 after five minutes. Vanjak called a time-out, subbed Zubcic in and Ivan Ramljak's lay-up cut the deficit to 17-9.
But the hosts had already gained the momentum, turning up their defense and creating turnovers on four of the next five possessions. And Evangelos Mantzaris's driving lay-up gave Greece a 28-9 advantage after one period - completing an 11-0 run.
Croatia could not get any easy baskets early in the second though Prostran's three-pointer trimmed the margin to 32-16. But Papanikolaou answered right back with a three-ball of his own and then Kaselakis drained a long-ball the next trip down and the lead grew to 38-16. Another Papanikolau three-ball pushed the cushion to 45-21 midway through the second.
George Vlassopoulos was able to bring in his reserves in the late stages of the period and they actually helped increase the lead while drawing a third foul on Delas. Papanikolaou hit yet another basket to make the score 53-26 at intermission.
Vlassopoulos's men did not let up in the third and after hitting a three-pointer to increase the lead to 58-26 Kaselakis was blowing kisses in the direction of his injured team-mate Vlantimir Giankovits, who was sitting on the sidelines with his leg in a cast.
"That's what happens when you are winning. I feel really great for these guys and am the happiest man in the world," said Giankovits, who broke a bone in his foot in the third game of the championship.
And the Pyrgos crowd went wild when Sarikopoulos threw down a break-away dunk for a 60-26 lead. Mantzaris would later follow with a trey for a 68-35 cushion. Croatia put together a minor push to close the third period with Smajlagic and Ivan Batur hitting long balls for a 9-0 which cut the deficit to 68-44.
The Croatians continued their surge in the fourth as the Greeks missed a few shots and Zubcic's basket made it 72-53 with six minutes to play. But Kaselakis knocked down another three-pointer and was followed by back-to-back triples by Pappas and the lead was back up to 81-53 with four minutes left. Croatia would not get closer than 19 points the rest of the way.