By Daniel AubreyLatvia’s amazing tournament has ended with a bronze medal after they beat Lithuania 74-72 in the last second of the most finely balanced game of the tournament.
Lithuania led from the start of the third quarter until just 19 seconds remained in the game before Latvia took a two point lead through Janis Kaufmanis.
Then Janis Strelnieks sparked incredible scenes as he hit a great jump shot as the clock ran down to 0.47 seconds and, after Lithuania had missed their last ditch long range effort, the entire Latvia bench flooded on to the court to celebrate.
|Zygimantas Janavicius was held to just four points for Lithuania. |
“I feel wonderful” said a near speechless Strelnieks, who had tears in his eyes after the game.
“It’s all I can say, to score the winning basket…wonderful”
Just as it always has been in this tournament this win really was a determined team effort, as despite falling behind in the second half five players scored in double figures – Lauris Mizis leading the way with 14 points and 13 rebounds - to make sure the victory didn’t escape them.
Before that neither side could escape the other as an unbelievably even first half gave absolutely no clue as to who the eventual winners would be and the deadlock between the two teams couldn’t be broken.
Both quarters ended with nothing between the two sides; the first ending 14 each and the half closing with both sides on 34 points.
All that changed was who led and who played catch up in each quarter.
In the first it was Lithuania who had their noses slightly in front, with Latvia hitting three treys through Janis Kaufmanis and Dairis Bertans – who finished with 11 and 14 points
respectively - to stay in touch.
|Lauris Blaus chipped in with 10 points in the Latvian win. |
A Bertans three pointer at the buzzer kept parity at the end of the first, before it was the turn of Latvia to lead the way in the second.
They opened up at 30-24 lead before being pegged back by an 8-0 Lithuania run to again end the quarter all square.
Finally the parity broke in the third as Vaidas Cepukaitis – who ended the game with 17 points and 13 boards - and Vytenis Lipkevicius scored eight and five points respectively to lead Lithuania away.
They started a 5-0 run on 7:47 which put them in front and kept them there until 3:05 left in the game.
With just 5:57 to go they had managed to pull away to a decisive looking nine point lead, but four different Latvia players scored the points to bring them level on 67 points with three minutes left and injected the tension straight back into the game.
Two Kaufmanis free shots meant the game was still locked at 70 with 49 seconds left.
Latvia were now into their stride and when Lithuania failed to score on their next play Latvia took their first lead of the second half, again through Kaufmanis, 72-70 with 19 seconds left and Lithuania with the ball.
Charging to the rim Zygimantas Janavicius tied it up yet again with nine seconds left, but as time ticked away Strelnieks downed a jump shot from inside the arc, falling backwards as he shot, and the Latvia team and the crowd went wild in celebration of a well earned medal.