By Kevin Anselmo
Lithuania opened the game with a 16-0 run in route to a 92-79 victory over Bulgaria in the the two teams´ final games of Group B Preliminary Round play in Podgorica.
The defending EuroBasket champs, with a revamped roster, earned a trip to Belgrade for the quarter-finals with a perfect 3-0 record.
“This means a lot, especially to our younger players,” said forward Robertas Javtokas.
Bulgaria committed turnovers on their opening four possessions of the game and Lithuania scored at will with an array of wide open three-pointers and dunks inside. After Bulgaria finally broke a scoring drought that lasted for more than four minutes to start the game, Lithuania responded with another 6-0 run, giving them a 22-2 lead.
|Lithuania celebrate a job well done|
“We did our homework and this was evident from the start of the game,” Lithuanian head coach Antas Sireika said.
“After our first two losses, I was worried we wouldn't be ready mentally,” said Bulgarian head coach Rossen Barchovski.
The Lithuanians made nine of their first 13 field goat attempts and finished the first quarter with 30 points.
Bulgaria, following two emotionally draining losses to Croatia and Turkey, did not fold and tied the game at 39 in the second quarter.
“We relaxed too much after our quick start and allowed them to get back in the game,” Sireika said.
Lithuania answered with a 10-3 run to close the first half with a 49-42 lead.
Simas Jasaitis hit a pair of three-pointers to start the second half and Lithuania opened the third quarter with a 8-0 to open up a double-digit lead, allowing them to cruise to to the finish.
Despite an 0-3 mark, Bulgaria played gritty basketball, challenging Europe's top teams in their first EuroBasket appearance in 12 years.
“Bulgaria showed a lot of character in these three games,” Sireika said.
“I am satisfied with the way we battled back in this game,” Barchovski said. “Overall, we played well in this championship.”
Once again, the Lithuanians used a balanced scoring attack as six scored in double figures, led by Jasaitis' 17.
“Our goal is to play as a team because we don´t have some of the stars we did in the past,” said Robertas Javtokas, who tallied 15 points. “Right now, we are doing this.”
“Our strength is that we play as a team,” added Ramunas Siskauskas. “We played like a team in the past when we had stars, but without some of those players, it is even more important that we play together.”
Filip Videnov put on an outstanding offensive performance in defeat for Bulgaria, finishing with 34 points. He was 12-for-30 from the field, including 5-for-10 from three-point range. Todor Stoykov, who scored 20-plus points in his first two games, was held to eight.
The win for Lithuania marks the team´s ninth consecutive EuroBasket victory. They will open quarter-final play on Thursday against the winner of the D2-C3 elimination game which will be played in Novi Sad on Tuesday.