|Dario Saric looked in bad shooting shape until he secured his team the top spot with two late three pointers to cut France's lead|
by Yarone Arbel
A loss that is nothing but a big win for Croatia after dropping their last game in Group E 64-63 to France and still finish first in their group of the U16 European Championship at Osnovna Skola Jugoslavija in Bar, Montenegro on Wednesday night.
Croatia could have afforded a loss by one or two points and still finish first, and in case of a three point loss would have cleared the way to Serbia to march from the top spot.
With 71 seconds on the clock France were up by seven, but then Dario Saric took over the game and showed just why he's the most dominant player in this competition.
Up to that point he had only 13 points - his tournament low, and connected three field goal shots in 16 attempts including missing all of his eight shots from the three point line.
Just when his team needed him most, he scored the first three pointer then added the second with 17 ticks on the clock and made sure no harm will be done with the loss.
Croatia finished their group first in a three-way tie with Serbia and France on a 4-1 record.
The Croats hold the goal average advantage in the tie-breaker over Serbia who went second while France finished third, one spot above Lithuania.
In the quarter-finals Croatia will play Russia, Serbia will take on Turkey, France will match-up with Spain while Lithuania will try to shock the home team from Montenegro.
Saric eventually finished with 19, nine rebounds and six assists, Karlo Lebo added 17 with nine rebounds and Filip Bundovic wrote 11.
Charly Maraux and Anthony Racine hit 14 points for France as Maraux added eight rebounds and seven assists while Alexandre Chassang tied his tournament high with 11 points.
Croatia enjoyed a better start with an 8-2 lead, but France answered with an 8-0 run and took the lead after a great 13-2 run as Chassang converted five points in a row.
Now it was time for the Croats to run and with eight points in a row they were above again, but that set the stage for a French run and after 9-0 stretching into the early second quarter it was 24-18 as Chassang collected already 11 points.
Saric was limited in his contribution, but his teammates stepped up and Mislav Brzoja scored from the arc to set a 28-28 tie after 15 minutes.
France took the lead again before Saric wrote a three point play, and added a couple from the foul line to to make it 36-33 for France at the break.
Rancine came back and hit twice from the arc to push France to 37-44 and right away added a jumper and another three pointer to complete 11 individual in a row and push his team up to 40-49.
Lebo saw his team in need and showed his game with two bombs by himself to make it 51-51 at beginning of the fourth quarter.
The score remained tight and Lebo once more scored four in a row to make it 59-57 but Maraux hit yet another one from the arc and slashed to the rim to make it 64-57 with 1:11 to go and then it was Saric time.
The big prospect showed up just in time and connected two three pointers in a row to set the gap exactly on what his team could afford, and also added the final rebound to lock it for good.