Free Throw Woes But Serbia & Montenegro Survive


Belgrade has long been considered one of the basketball hotbeds of Europe.

That was reconfirmed early Saturday night when Serbia & Montenegro edged Croatia in the U18 European Championship Men in a packed gym.

The hosts trailed by 10 points midway through the final quarter but hit back and won an overtime thriller, 94-89.

European basketball players are hailed for their excellent shooting technique but in the U18 and U20 Championships being staged this month, the golden touch has gone AWOL - especially at the free throw line.

Both teams suffered at the charity stripe in this game and Croatia were ultimately punished.

The line became a major factor after Serbia & Montenegro clawed their way back to trail 82-81 with 26 seconds remaining. They immediately fouled Ivan Papic.

The Vinkovci-born player missed both attempts from the line, and Nenad Mijatovic went to the other end and scored on a lay-up with eight seconds left to give the hosts an 83-82 lead.

Croatia called timeout to discuss their strategy.

When play resumed, the Croatians put the ball into the hands of Ivan Siriscevic and with two seconds left the 1.96m forward drew a foul from Milos Teodosic.

Make both shots from the line and his team wins, make one and the game likely goes to the extra period. Fail to make one, and victory is almost certainly Serbia & Montenegro's.

With the more than 2,000 fans packed into the tiny Belgrade gym, including the recently retired Aleksandar Djordjevic and Yugoslavia's World Championship winning coach in 2002, Svetislav Pesic, looking on, Siriscevic missed the first attempt but made the second to level the game at 83-83.

The Serbo-Montenegrins still had two seconds on the clock, enough for Mijatovic to heave a desperation shot but he missed and the game went to overtime.

A minute into the extra period, Ivan Paunic put the home team in front with a lay-up, and then the ugly free throw resurfaced.

Nenad Zivcevik fouled Luka Drezga, and the Croatian made just one of two from the line.

Milenko Tepic then scored to give the Serbo-Montenegrins an 87-84 advantage and start a 6-0 run that Croatia never recovered from.

If Croatia were bad at the free throw line, making just 15 of 25 (60%), the irony is that Serbia & Montenegro were even worse, sinking 20 of 38 (52.6%).

Dragan Labovic, a 2.05m forward for the home side, was the game's top scorer with 27 points while Siriscevic had 24 for Croatia.

There has been a lot of interest in the youth tournament in Belgrade. The gym was full for this game, and an estimated 1,000 more were outside attempting to get in.

With the home team winning for the second time in the tournament, there will be ample opportunity for those fans to watch some U18 basketball with the next chance on Sunday against Turkey in a battle that will decide the winners of Group D.

In a Group C clash, Israel beat Bulgaria 88-60. The contest was close until the final quarter, when the Israelis outscored their opponents 23-3.

Elishay Kadir had 29 points and Yogev Ohayon poured in 20 for Israel.

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