France See Off Croatia

28 July 2009

France used a late run to see off Croatia 67-61 in the Qualifying Round at the U18 European Championship Men 2009, in Metz, France.

Domagoj Bubalo hit a three-pointer to put Croatia up 54-53 early in the final quarter but the hosts then went on a 14-1 run to take their biggest lead of the night, 67-55, on Leo Westermann's free-throws with 1:48 left to play.

Croatia scored six quick points and were down by just six, 67-61, with 20 seconds remaining, but France ran out the clock and clinched their first win in Group E.

Afterwards Westermann said the win had been savoured and the team's focus had already shifted to Wednesday's game against Germany.

"This was a good win for us. Obviously it was one we needed, to have any chance to get into the quarter-finals," he said.

"It was a tough game. Croatia are a good team and they gave us some problems. But we also have problems of our own to try and fix.

"We need to do a better job defensively and not relax as much as we've done so far in the tournament. We have allowed teams to get back into games - and steal them from us. So we have to stop that."

And France did allow Croatia to get back into the game early on.

Les Bleus got off to a quick start leading 16-5 with just over five minutes played, but Croatia - despite being without star guard Toni Prostran (ankle) as well as Luka Babic (finger) - made a run to cut the deficit to one, 20-19, by the end of the first quarter.

Ivan Batur - returning to action after sitting out the last three games through injury - scored eight first quarter points and inspired his team.

The teams then went back and forth for the early part of the second quarter with the lead staying under five points.

France got some timely baskets inside from Fabien Paschal to go up 26-24 and extended the advantage to 32-27 when Mael Lebrun skied high above the defense for an offensive rebound and a putback that impressed the fans.

Croatia though gained the momentum back, scoring the final seven points of the quarter courtesy of Dino Jakolis and Dragan Sekelja to edge ahead 34-32 as the teams headed back to the locker room.

The third quarter was close with Hrvoje Vlasic's side trying to pull away only for Evan Fournier to keep France close with a three-pointer and then a tough runner for a 39-38 edge.

Matteo Juricic buried a three-pointer to  put Croatia back in front, 41-39, but Lebrun answered with a long bomb of his own at the other end and put the hosts back on top, 42-41.

The visitors went into the final quarter up 49-48 but Lebrun drained another three-pointer that gave France the lead for good as Croatia played from behind - in vain - the rest of the way.

Westermann and Lebrun had 14 points each for France while Dino Jakolis went for a game-high 17 for Croatia.

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