|Vytenis Cizauskas had a bad day from the three point line but was huge in the comeback rallye that won Lithuania the game|
One of the most thrilling and unbelievable finishes in the history of European youth basketball took place as Lithuania edged Serbia 67-66 in the semi-finals of the OMNITEL U18 European Championship at Siemens Arena in Vilnius, Lithuania on Saturday evening.
Thousands of local fans pushed their team to an unforgettable comeback, and shock the Serbs who seemed to have the win in their pocket but dropped it, and will have to settle for the bronze medal game.
After eliminating the champions of 2009 Lithuania will take onthe second semi-finals winner between Russia and Latvia in the grand title game tomorrow.
With 5:48 to go in the game Serbia held a 53-66 lead, but before it was too late Lithuania stepped up on defense, locked the net and kept Serbia at zero points until the final buzzer.
It was enough just for an overtime, but Vukasin Petkovic committed a foul with 1.7 seconds on the clock at the other side of court and sent Zygmiantas Skucas to the line with the score tied.
The young forward scored the first to cap a huge 14-0 run that miraculously won the game and secured at least a silver medal for the hosts, who have no intentions to leave the tournament with anything less than gold.
Serbia were on top of the game from last in the 1st quarter until the 34th minute, limited Jonas Valanciunas, used a terrible shooting night from the arc by Lithuania and silenced the fans when reaching their top gap, those famous 13 points, inside the last quarter.
The once-in-a-lifetime comeback by the Lithuanians is a memory that will go forever with each one of the players, staff and fans who were present tonight in Siemens Arena.
Vytenis Cizauskas scored 15 points including the basket that tied the score, and he was followed by Deividas Pukis with 12, Dovydas Redikas added 11 as well as the game winner - Skucas.
Valanciunas was limited to eight points, 14 rebounds and six blocks behind a lot of double and triple team defense by Serbia.
Bogic Vujosevic was a great leader from the back court and had 15 points, while Nikola Siladi finished with 14 points including two monster dunks and Stefan Nastic added 10.
Serbia saw trouble already after five minutes when big guy Bozo Dumic was called on his second foul and had to leave his main task - to stop Valanciunas, earlier than planned.
Lithuania took an early 17-9 lead and seemed like on the edge of taking over the game, but Siladi's three point shot jumped on the rim three times before going in and keep Serbia in the game.
The Serbs forgot to return to defense on time which allowed Cizauskas quick and easy points, and hold eight in his bag already in the first half, which was exactly the gap between the teams, 22-14.
Redikas scored two with a bonus to write Lithuania's biggest lead of the night, 25-14, but that's when things started to get complicated.
The tough and aggressive defense on Valanciunas stopped him from being a big force, and despite Dumic returned and collected his third foul in the 14th minute, it seemed like Serbia was strong in the game.
Nemanja Besovic hit a big shot to tie the score at 26-26 while Serbia's brilliant defense held the hosts on a single field goal for 9 minutes.
Until Lithuania woke up it was already 27-35 for the Serbs after a huge 2-21 run led by Siladi and Vujosevic.
Edgaras Ulanovas stopped the drought and next Redikas finally scored the first three pointer of the night for his team, enough to finish the half just three points behind, 34-37.
Yet if someone believed the late 2nd quarter baskets were a sign of a changed momentum for the local team the second half started with two missed shots from the arc, Valaciunas' third foul, Zukis' fourth and no less than another four minutes without a field goal.
Serbia didn't connect things yet as well and with a tied 43-43 score Valanciunas had a chance to bring his team back on top, but missed a dunk only to see Redikas fail to connect an open lay up in the following attempt and display just how big the pill of pressure was.
The underdogs regained the lead before Siladi stole the ball and finished with a monster jam, but the fans saw Valanciunas finally score his first field goal and pushed their team on, but Serbia were in a world of their own and took a 51-56 lead after 30 minutes.
Five players of Serbia scored in the 2-10 run that ignited the last quarter and set the mentioned 13 point gap, 53-66 before the big drama started.
Lithuania moved to full court pressure and figured this was their last chance entering the last four minutes still down by still nine, 57-66.
The first red flag was a 24 shot clock violation, then Djordje Drenovac missed a lay-up and another 24 seconds passed without a Serbian shot after Pukis hit a huge three pointer from the corner to make it just 62-66 inside the last three minutes.
After both sides failed the score in the next 90 seconds, Valanciunas hit twice from the line, and Serbia held the ball entering the last minute.
Siladi missed but the ball remained Serbian, but another miss allowed Cizauskas to attack the rim, tie the score and create the strongest noise Siemens Arena experienced in this tournament.
After a timeout Nastic was trapped and took an early shot, that fell into the hands of Skucas, and in the big crowd Petkovic's instinct turned out to be lethal for his team.