France turned good defense into easy offense to beat Italy 58-45 in a low-scoring affair in Rethymno.
Tahar Assed Liegeon’s men built a double-digit lead in the second quarter when, thanks to a stifling team defense, they forced their opponents into several turnovers that led to easy fast break opportunities, most of which they converted.
Italy shot just 20 per cent from the field in the first half and turned the ball over 13 times as they trailed 23-12 at the break.
|Nicolo Melli struggled on offense with just five points in Italy's loss.|
Antonio Bocchino’s men looked set to make a game of it when they scored the first four points of the second half to come within eight, 23-15, but France found their shooting touch and added to their lead.
Frederic Bourdillon’s three-pointer late in the third quarter put Les Bleus up by 17, 38-21, and it looked like they had put the game beyond Italy’s reach.
However, Luca Fontecchio and Andrea De Nicolao led a furious comeback in the closing minutes of the game to close the gap to seven, 49-42, with under two minutes left.
With the clock ticking down though, Italy had no other choice but to foul and France kept its cool to make most of its free-throws down the stretch and secure the win, one which was quite special for Assed Liegeon.
‘We have played Italy several times this year but we never seemed to play their best team because they didn’t send all their best players at the same tournament. So to beat them today, when they finally had their best team on the court, it’s very special,’ he explained.
‘We get our offense going as a result of our good work on defense. I think we were able to show that today.
And, even though his team had several comfortable leads throughout, France’s head coach never thought the game was won until the final whistle.
‘In junior tournaments you never know what’s going to happen. So even though we had a lead of more than 10 points in the second quarter, we knew the game wasn’t over yet.
'And when we were up by 17 in the third quarter, we still had to stick to our game plan until the end of the game.’
Joffrey Lauvergne led the way for France with 11 points and seven rebounds while Elio Sadiku, who closed out the game by making seven of his eight free-throws, added 10.
Fontecchio had a game-high 16 points for Italy.