By Kevin Anselmo
Hidayet Turkoglu´s three pointer with 33 seconds remaining helped Turkey to a dramatic 94-89 come-from-behind overtime victory over Bulgaria in Group B of the Preliminary Round held in Podgorica.
Tied at 89, Turkoglu lined up a drilled a straight-on three-pointer from well beyond the line, giving Turkey a three-point lead.
“You must have confidence when playing this game,” Turkoglu said. “I have this confidence and I knew the shot was going in when I took it.”
The win sets up a decisive game between Turkey and Croatia tomorrow for the rights to the second seed in Group B.
Trailing 69-57 with just over nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Turkey went on a 22-10 to tie the game at 79 and send it into end regulation. Ibrahim Kutluay hit three huge three-point field goals during that span.
Bulgaria responded at the end of regulation. Trailing by two, center Boyko Mladenov scored down low, tying the game at 79-79 with 11 seconds remaining. Serkan Erdogan had a chance to win the game for Turkey at the end of regulation, but mis-fired on a long off balance jumper as time expired.
Bulgaria opened up a six-point lead to start the extra session on a pair of threes from Todor Stoykov and Dimitar Angelov. But Turkey answered and tied the score at 92 following Mirsad Turkan's short jumper with 1 :27 remaining and two free throws with 1 :14 left in overtime, setting the stage for Turkoglu. Angelov missed a three on Bulgaria next possession and Kerem Tunceri´s two free throws with 14 seconds left sealed the game.
“Bulgaria never quit,” said Kutluay. “But we used our experience to win the game.”
Bulgaria are playing in EuroBasket for the first time since 1993, while Turkey have been a mainstay in the competition over the last decade. The experience factor was also echoed as a key in the game by the two teams head coaches.
“Tonight we beat a very strong team – that is what Bulgaria is,” said Bogdan Tanjevic. “I never give too much importance to experience in professional sports, but I think this was the key in tonight's game.”
“The main reason we lost is because Turkey is a world-class basketball team who knows how to play under pressure,” said Bulgarian head coach Rossen Barchovski. “They've played in EuroBasket for a long time, while this and I think this experience advantage made a difference down the stretch of the game.”
Despite Turkey´s size advantage in the front-court, Bulgaria had a 38-26 on scoring in the paint.
Mehmet Okur, after a dismal seven-point performance on Friday evening, had an unspectacular 13 points and six rebounds. He did not start the third quarter and in his absence, Turkey opened the second half on a 5-0 run. But Bulgaria answered and countered with their own 20-11 run to close the third quarter with a 10-point lead.
Bulgaria lost for the second consecutive time after leading throughout the game. They will take on Lithuania tomorrow in hopes of securing their first EuroBasket win since 1989.
“No question, this was the most disappointing loss in my career,” said Mladenov.
Mirsad led Turkey with 19 points, while Turkoglu finished with 17. Filip Videnov scored a game-high 23 and Stoykov chipped in with 21 for Bulgaria.