By Kevin Anselmo
With just four players remaining from their 2003 EuroBasket championship team, Lithuania took a first step towards defending their title with an impressive 87-75 victory over Turkey in the teams´ opening preliminary round game in Podgorica.
Behind a 24-13 second quarter run and the offensive performance of Ramunas Siskauskas, Lithuania jumped out to a 46-28 first half lead. With questions swirling about Lithuania due to the absence of the core group from the 2004 Olympic and 2003 EuroBasket championship teams, the Lithuanians provided answers, shooting a blistering 61% for the game.
“Before this first game I was nervous because we did not have so many players that we had in the past,” confessed Lithuanian head coach Antanas Sireika. “But these guys responded and played well.”
“Lithuania played wonderfully,” said Turkey's head coach Bogdan Tanjevic. “They proved that they have one of the best basketball schools in the world.”
Defensively, Lithuania were dominant, holding Turkey star Mehmet Okur to seven points. Okur, who averaged 18.8 points per game in the 2003 EuroBasket, was scoreless in the first half and didn't tally his first points until the end of the third quarter.
“Psychologically, this game was very important for this group of players,” said Lithuania´s Robertas Javtokas, who grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
The offensive onslaught continued in the second half as Lithuania opened the third quarter with an 11-4 run and increased their lead to 25.
Turkey outscored Lithuania 29-22 in the fourth quarter and at one time cut the deficit to seven points with 4:20 remaining in the game, but could get no closer.
Darius Lavrinovic, who finished with 14 points, hit a key three point field goal with under four minutes remaining to stop Turkey's momentum and secure the win for Lithuania.
“We need to have the same aggressiveness for the whole game, not just one quarter,” said Turkish guard Hidayet Turkoglu, who led Turkey with 14 points.
Siskauskas scored 16 of his game-high 20 points in the first half.
Lithuania will look to continue their winning ways against Croatia on Saturday, while Turkey will try to rebound from their loss by taking on Bulgaria.
NOTES : Lithuania´s roster includes six players making their national team debut. .... In his first game in the starting line-up with the national team, point guard Vidas Ginevicius finished with three points on 1/5 shooting.