Slovenia Edge Czechs

23 July 2009

Slovenia held off a relentless Czech Republic to open their U18 European Championship Men 2009 campaign with a hard-fought 74-71 win.

The eventual losers came back from a double-digit first-half deficit to be within one, 72-71, on Ondrej Kohout's three-pointer with four seconds left to play and still with a chance to steal this game.

But Peter Balint's team were in the penalty and could only foul in order to stop the clock. The Slovenians made no mistake and iced the game from the free-throw line.

"This is a big win for us," head coach Dalibor Damjanovic said afterwards. "For the past month we have been working on self-confidence so to start the tournament with a win is encouraging."

The manner in which his team won, though, left the coach anxious as Slovenia saw a 12-point second quarter lead evaporate in a matter of minutes.

"We showed that we have a lot of work to do on our defense. Our offence is fine, I have no complaints there but we need to do a better job in keeping our opponents off the boards."

Early on, Slovenia used some good ball movement and the hot hand of Jakob Cebasek to take a 24-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Cebasek accounted for 11 points in the opening period alone, including three three-pointers as Slovenia used an 8-0 run to create some separation between the sides after a fairly even start.

But the Czech Republic didn't relent and gradually made up ground in the second quarter, finding their range as they outscored their opponents 22-14 to close within one, 33-32, on  Jan Mastalka's long bomb with just over three minutes left in the half and trailed just by three, 39-36 at the half.

After the break, both teams came out more aggressive, driving to the basket for tough lay-ups.  The Czechs were in front 47-46 on Jaromir Bohacik's fastbreak dunk but couldn't pull away as both sides traded the lead.

Slovenia regained the ascendency late in the third quarter, as Tine Horvat hit a three-pointer in the closing seconds for a 61-54 lead before the Czechs hit a pair of long bombs early in the final frame to be within three, 63-60.

The Czech Republic kept it close until the very end, but were playing from behind and time ran out on them.

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