Giannis Aggelopoulos wanted to make sure the home fans would see Greece start in the best possible way in its opening Group D game at Ierapetra and he made good on his promise, leading the hosts to a 79-66 win over Croatia.
Aggelopoulos led all scorers with a game-high 25 points, including 13 in the final period as he ended the visitors’ hopes of making a late comeback.
The 194cm guard scored at will in the final period, hitting a three-pointer from the right
wing to put Greece ahead 65-56 with 4:50 left to play and effectively shut the door on Vladimir Vanjak’s men.
|Toni Prostran did all he could for Croatia, with 22 points.|
And when Aggelopoulos wasn’t doing the scoring himself, he got all the help he needed as Giannis Karathanasis added 13 points and Dimitrios Katsivelis chipped in with 11.
The game was close for the entire first half with the lead changing nine times and the score tied on eight occasions.
Point guard Toni Prostan helped Croatia take a 22-21 lead at the end of the first quarter by knifing his way through the Greek defense for some spectacular lay ups.
But Aggelopoulos and Katsivelis kept the hosts in the game, and the latter’s shot at the end of the first period beat the buzzer to ensure they only trailed by the slimmest of margins.
The second quarter was just as close and the late part of that period became a duel between Aggelopoulos and Croatia’s Ivan Batur – who both had 12 points by the break – as they traded baskets to tie the game up at 37 all.
But after the break, Greece were a lot more aggressive on defense and Croatia looked out of sorts, forced to take bad shots and even rush some to beat the 24-second shot clock as they were unable to break through the now impermeable Greek defence
The hosts used a 9-0 run midway through the third quarter to take a 50-41 lead on a lay up by Aggelopoulos but Croatia answered immediately with seven points in a row to make a game of it again at 50-48.
However that’s as close as they got the rest of the way. Karathanasis hit two clutch three pointers at the end of the third quarter and the start of the final period to give Greece some breathing room at 58-52.
Croatia couldn’t make another rally and instead it was Greece who used another 9-0 spurt to put the game away for good, with Aggelopoulos leading the way.
Prostan finished with 22 for Croatia and Batur added 14 but both were kept under control for most of the second half.
After the game, he explained the difference between the first and second half from Greece’s perspective.
‘The coach told us to be more aggressive on defense and to shut them down. So we tried our best to do that and it looks like it worked,’ said Aggelopoulos.
‘It was great to start like this, with a win in front of our home fans. We’re going to need them if we want to win the tournament. They keep us motivated.’
Fans who stayed in the arena after Greece's win were treated to a great exhibition of run and gun basketball by Russia and Latvia.
It was a close contest all the way but in the end, Latvia just about held on to take a 76-70 win.
Janis Antrops finished with 19 points and Armands Osins added 18 for Latvia who came out winners despite shooting only 43.3 per cent from the free throw line.
|Vladimir Chichaykin contributed eight points to the Russian effort. |
Osins made a three-pointer with 1:45 left to put Latvia ahead 69-63 and Roberts Freimanis then made a lay up with 49.2 seconds left that all but ended Russia’s hopes.
Bendzhamin Pavel Dudu made a desperation three to cut the deficit to 74-70 but Juris Petrovs’ side held on.
This game stood out from the others which had been played here in Groups C and D throughout the day as there wasn’t much defense being played – something which had been a mainstay in today’s three other fixtures – but instead priority was given to running in the open court with a few high flying dunks and spectacular lay-ups for good measure.
Russia led 25-16 at the end of the first quarter but Latvia rallied in the second period and the teams went in at the break tied at 38.
The game stayed close in the third quarter as Russia edged ahead, but only by a point, 56-55, with the final period still to be played.
However, Alexei Vadeev’s men couldn’t stay with Latvia who seemed to have fresher legs in the fourth quarter and went ahead thanks to Antrops and Osins.
Dudu and Ivan Strebkov finished with 14 points each for Russia.
"We like to play at a fast pace," Osins said afterwards.
"It’s our style of play and we were able to use it well tonight."
However, the free-throw struggles – Latvia shot 13 of 30 – he agreed will have to be addressed soon.
"Our free-throw shooting was quite bad tonight and we can’t keep that up against the other teams in the group."