Turkey overcame a strong Bulgarian side and a brave fight back to win the first game of Group B action at the UMCOR U18 European Championship Men, taking place in Madrid.
Taner Günay’s side looked to have the contest in the bag until Hristo Zahariev (22 points) joined Tsvetelin Ivanov (15 points) and Bozhidar Avramov (21 points) in trying to claw a 12 point half time deficit back for the Bulgarians and make a contest of the opening game.
|Hristo Zahariev led Bulgaria with 22 points and seven rebounds. |
After Turkey had initially threatened to run away with the game from the very start, the opening quarter soon turned into a tight contest thanks largely to the contribution of Avramov and Ivanov, whose steal and lay-up gave the Bulgarians their first lead of the game (16-14).
His shot from beyond the arc on his team’s next offensive set put his side on 19 points, keeping their noses in front 19-18 at the break.
It didn’t last, however, and Turkey took charge of the game from the start of the second phase, with star Dogus Balbay running the show at either end of the court for the Turks.
His drive to the basket with 7:10 remaining ended in a powerful dunk and freethrows, stretching the lead to 30-19 thanks to a 12-0 after just 3 minutes of the quarter.
The Bulgarians were kept off the scoreboard until 5:12 in, by which time Turkey had ran out to a 21 point lead.
When a determined fight-back did come from Yulian Aladzhov’s side it seemed too late, the deficit being reduced slightly to 12 points (31-43) by the break.
The second half saw a combination of silly mistakes by the Turks and the superb second half show of Zahariev to bring the game back into being a contest.
The only player to get plenty of minutes for Turkey was Can Özcan, who repaid the coach with a 21 point haul.
Yet it was perhaps the rebounding of Balbay (7 defensive rebounds), who kept the Bulgarians at bay, and it was another of his strong drives to the basket that opened up the 4 point gap (76-80) with a minute left that allowed his side to hold on and win the game 78-81.
“This was a difficult game, because Bulgaria have big players who hustle well” said Turkey coach Günay after the game.
“It was hard because we have five new players in the squad, but we will improve for the next game” he continued.
“Let’s just hope it’s not so close!”
Another tight encounter followed in the next game in Group B where Greece beat Israel 75-70.
But the Greeks had to fight hard in the second half to keep a spirited Israel side at bay, after a first quarter lead was overturned to give Israel a one point lead at half time.
But all Israel’s hard work and running seemed to go against them as they tired in the later stages and the Greeks, led by Kosta Koufos, hung in for the win.
Koufos completed a double-double of 21 points and 15 rebounds to help his side to the slender victory.
The center, who plays college ball for Ohio State in the US, has been in sparkling form in the run up to this tournament and he could be vital for the Greek side’s chances of qualification from what looks like a tough group.