By David Hein
Turning point: Leading 66-63, Russia forced F.Y.R.O.M. into a 24 second violation turnover with 56 seconds left and then Anton Ponkrashov made two foul shots for a five-point lead. F.Y.R.O.M. did not get closer than one point the rest of the way.
Hero: Timofey Mozgov. The Russian big man collected 25 points and 11 rebounds while hitting 11 of 17 shots in the game.
Stats: Russia made 18 of 25 free throws including five of six in the final 33 seconds.
Defending champions Russia are returning to the Quarter-Finals for the ninth consecutive time after beating F.Y.R. of Macedonia 71-69 in Qualifying Round Group E action for a spot in the final eight in Katowice.
Timofey Mozgov collected 25 points and 11 rebounds while Anton Ponkrashov had 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists and Andrey Vorontsevich chipped in 10 points off the bench for Russia, who improved to 3-2 in the group.
|Timofey Mozgov led the way for Russia with 25 points and 11 rebounds.|
"We needed to look really far down deep in ourselves to win that ball game because it was looking pretty bleak. But in the end, we found it. And I am proud of what we have done and am looking forward to next stage,'' said Blatt, whose team out-rebounded F.Y.R.O.M. 42-32 including 16 offensive rebounds.
"Today was a very, very tough game. Everyone understood that we must win to reach the quarterfinals. (F.Y.R. of) Macedonia also showed very good basketball and it was hard to perform against their tough defense. But in the end we found a way," said Ponkrashov.
Russia could finish second in Group E if Greece lose later Tuesday against France in Bydgoszcz.
F.Y.R.O.M. had a valiant effort, paced by 19 points and 10 rebounds from Pero Antic and 16 points each from Vrbica Stefanov and Todor Gechevski. But Jovica Arsic's team will exit the tournament with a 1-4 record in the Qualifying Round group.
"We had a lot of problems stopping Mozgov on his offensive rebounds. We played tough for 40 minutes. But the better team is going to the quarter-finals," said Arsic.
"We did everything we could to win this game. We tried to play 40 minutes of defense. We didn't forget that we were playing against Russia, but it was great that we were in the game," said Stefanov, who will be retiring from the game.
"You won't see many more like him. I'm glad I don't have to coach any more against him," said Blatt of Stefanov.
F.Y.R.O.M. made just one of their first five shots but went ahead 5-4 on Stefanov's first three-ball. And it was tied at 8-8 after an Antic triple. Russia created three turnovers in four possessions to lead 14-10 after one period.
Jeremiah Massey's three-point play trimmed the margin to 16-14 before Russia went on a 14-7 run with Mozgov and Vorontsevich combining for 10 points to give Blatt's men a 30-21 advantage.
Stefanov and Antic both knocked down triples and F.Y.R.O.M. were within 33-29 at intermission.
Arsic's team received a spark off the bench from Damjan Stojanovski with a long jumper and three-pointer in a 13-5 start to the second half to give F.Y.R.O.M. a 42-38 lead.
Russia reeled F.Y.R.O.M. back in though back-to-back dunks by Sergey Monya and Vorontsevic could not help the teams from being knotted at 49-49 after three quarters.
After Russia had opened a 53-49 gap, Gechevski nailed a three-pointer and converted a three-point play in a single time down the court as Vorontsevich's foul after the triple had given the ball back to F.Y.R.O.M., who opened a 57-53 margin.
Sergey Bykov nailed a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down and Mozgov came up with a follow dunk as Russia remained three points ahead.
Already up 66-63, Russia forced a 24 second violation and Ponkrashov's foul shots opened a five-point gap with 33 seconds left. Antic's three-point play would bring F.Y.R. of Macedonia to within 69-68, but Vitalii Fridzon made two free throws with 11.5 seconds left before Dimitar Mirakovski made just one of two with 7.6 seconds to play and missed a possible game-tying layup at the buzzer.