|Nikola Ivanovic exploded for for 29 points including the game clinching jumper in the last minute|
by Yarone Arbel
Montenegro wrote a big finish to the Preliminary Round with a 65-60 win over Russia in Group D of the U16 European Championship at Sports Hall Topolica in Bar, Montenegro on Saturday night.
The win bestows the host team a 3-0 record to finish the group above their opponents while Russia dropped to the third spot with a 1-2 record tied with Turkey and Israel.
The last were the most damaged team from the result, as it sent them to the last place in the tie-breaker to finish fourth in the group and starting Monday Israel will fight for their spot in Division A through the Classification Round for the second year in a row.
Montenegro and Russia will be joined by Turkey, Spain, Poland and Bulgaria to form Group F of the Qualifying Round, from which four teams will climb to the quarter-finals.
"I'm very proud of my boys from coming back from minus eight at the half for a win," said Djordje Pavicevic the head coach of Montenegro.
"The team was very tired after the game against Turkey, and it showed in the first half already.
"Russia is a very good team and they played excellent trying to prove they belong here after their big loss to Turkey and they for sure made it, but we won and I'm proud of my players."
Nikola Ivanovic shone for the local winners with 29 points out of which 21 were scored in the second half while right behind him was Milos Pajovic with six points and 15 rebounds and Dusan Perovic added 11 with seven boards.
Pavel Sizov collected the most points for Russia with 17 and added seven rebounds and Oleg Alferov reached his tournament high with 12 points, all made behind the arc.
Montenegro hit only two three pointers in 17 shots, but saw Russian enjoy a big first half from the perimeter.
Russia hit eight times in 15 attempts in the first 20 minutes as Alferov was perfect with all his four shots, yet in the second half their hot hand turned cold and Alferov missed the next four times and his team added just two more triplets.
Nevertheless Russia was still strong in the game, and held a small lead inside the last quarter but Ivanovic was in charge of the big come back and scored no less than 10 points in the last 7:19 minutes.
Montenegro were the first to take a mentionable lead and after six minutes were up by six, 12-6 as Perovic already collected six points.
Russia's big finish to the quarter put them on top 14-18 after scoring 11 points in a row going from the 8th to the 11th minute.
Alferov added another from the arc, to create a seven point game but Vasilije Vusovic carried his team on a 9-0 to take the lead again, only to see Russia bomb three pointers by Sizov and then two more by Alferov and another three point play by Sizov to cap the exact same run and lead 32-38.
Walking the same path as they did the entire quarter, the finishing basket of the half was hit by Russia from beyond the arc to make it 33-41 and create some nervousness among the local fans.
"At the break I told my players they must be more aggressive if they want to win, because Russia were shooting in a very high accuracy and that was our main problem," added Pavicevic.
"That's what happened in the second half and when Nikola Ivanovic stepped up and led the team in great performance we managed to take over and win against an excellent Russian team."
Ivanovic started the second half with the first nine points of his team, and made it just a single point game, 42-43 but Russia remained on top and Sizov added another three point play with a crazy off balance one hand shot to keep his team 46-51 ahead entering the last quarter.
Montenegro were still behind by five for one more minute before Ivanovic started his last quarter journey, put his team on top with a 15-4 run and scored eight of the last 10 points of his side to seal the deal.