France Overcome Valanciunas, Lithuania, Reach Final


France beat Lithuania 68-63 to reach the final of the U18 European Championship Men 2009 in Metz.

The home side led by as many as 13 early in the fourth quarter before Lithuania charged back but Les Bleus did just enough down the stretch to clinch a showdown with Serbia in Sunday's final.

"This was a very good performance from our guys," said head coach Philippe Ory. "We played hard throughout and even though Lithuania came back, we were strong enough to close out the game."

"This is unbelievable" said Mael Lebrun, who had 18 points to pace France. "We got going in the second quarter and kept that going until the fourth quarter. They got close near the end and we couldn't help but think about the times in this tournament when we collapsed late in games. But I think we applied the lessons we learned and got the win."

Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania)
Jonas Valanciunas' amazing performance was simply not enough for Lithuania on the night
France took a 35-31 lead at the break and a charge late in the third quarter saw them up 52-45 as the final period got underway.

They stayed very much in control and soon had their first double-digit lead of the night, 58-47, on Henri Kahuti's shot with 8:09 left in the game.

That advantage would reach 13 - their biggest lead - when Evan Fournier scored on a lay-up some 30 seconds later.

Lithuania though fought back and with Jonas Valanciunas - who was unstoppable with 37 points and 19 rebounds - leading the way.

The center either scored or got fouled and, more often than not, made good on his trips to the free-throw line as a 7-0 run got his team back within five, 65-60, with 2:40 left to play.

Marius Linartas' side applied some full court pressure on France's ball handlers and the move paid off as the hosts turned the ball over, leading to Valanciunas tipping in Augustas Peciukevius's missed lay-up for a 65-62 score with 48.2 seconds.

France threw the ball away trying to inbound it. Deividas Nazarovas was fouled and made one of two attempts from the foul line to close the gap to 65-63 with 40 seconds remaining.

Kahudi broke through the pressure defense but his lay-up was swatted away by Valanciunas and Lithuania raced up the court knowing they could tie the game or take the lead.

But Ovidijus Varanauskas badly missed a corner three and Fournier made a free-throw for a 66-63 score.

The Lithuanians turned the ball over as they tried to bring it past midcourt and Kahudi fed a streaking Lebrun who threw down a thunderous dunk for the final points of the night, bringing the fans to their feet.

Mael Lebrun (France)
Mael Lebrun had yet another solid game for France
Evan Fournier was the only other player in double-figures with a dozen, but 11 of 12 players scored for France.

Valanciunas was the game's high-scorer and Mantas Kadzevicius added nine for Lithuania.

In the first quarter, the visitors got a 9-2 lead as Valanciunas powered his way inside. France though responded by running off seven unanswered points to tie the game on Kevin Mondesir's shot.

Valanciunas put an end to that and his dunks on consecutive plays handed Lithuania the lead back, 13-9.

Les Bleus came back once more and an 8-2 run capped off by Fournier's lay-up with 2:10 left in the opening period saw them up 17-15. Lithuania took a 21-19 lead after Nazarovas hit a pair of free-throws in the closing seconds of the opening period.

The second quarter was more as high scoring with both teams cooling off considerably. Chrislain Cairo made a lay-up to edge France back in front 22-21 and they would stay ahead, taking a 29-25 lead on Fabien Paschal's lay-up with about five minutes left in the half.

Mantas Kadzevicius and Peciukevicius made a pair of free-throws each to cut the deficit to two, 33-31 with 33.3 seconds before local hero Vincent Pourchot re-established France's four-point lead at 35-31 in the closing seconds of the half.

France gradually extended their advantage early in the third quarter, going up by as many as eight, 45-37 before Valanciunas and Kadzevicius got Lithuania to within two, 47-45, on the latter's putback.  

Geofffrey Henon scored his first basket with 1:50 remaining in the period and Fournier buried a corner three for the 52-45 lead they had in the final quarter.

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