|Nikola Jankovic was a force for the Serbians with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds to go along his 4 assists and 3 blocks|
by Yarone Arbel
A great step up by Serbia in the last minutes of the Preliminary Round gave them a 73-61 win over Italy in Group A of the U16 European Championship at Sports Hall Topolica in Bar, Montenegro on Saturday evening.
The two teams fought for the second spot in the group after Croatia already won the top, and after a hard nosed battle Serbia came up with the upper hand after many ups and downs on both ends of the floor.
Serbia win the second spot with a 2-1 record while Italy finish third with a 1-2 balance and will start the next round without any wins.
Three Nikolas shone for Serbia - Jankovic was the top scorer of Serbia with 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, Majic added 13 with four steals and Radicevic finished with 11 and four assists.
In Italy it was Matteo Imbro with 18 points but also eight turnovers, Amedeo Tessitori completed the game with 14 points and 10 rebounds while Aristide Landi collected 12.
Serbia won despite a bad shooting day and connected only three hits from the arc in 17 attempts while the foul line didn't tell much better news with only 52.2%.
Italy was in better form but turned the ball over no less than 25 times, to allow Serbia the win.
Italy ignited a big run in the third quarter to close a double-digit gap and put the pressure on Serbia, but saw their opponent write a 14-0 run from a 59-59 tie to decide the game in the last minutes.
"We had a game of ups and downs, but the most important thing now is that we got this victory and we advance to the Qualifying Round with a win," concluded Serbia's coach Sasa Nikitovic.
"I think every team always have room for improvement but we need to take it step by step and win game after game until we reach the finish line," he added.
Italy stayed close for five minutes before Mladen Dordevic and Jankovic combined seven points in a row to give their team a 17-11 lead.
Majic scored from the arc and the lefty Radicevic beat the buzzer to make it a 25-15 game at the end of the first quarter.
Serbia completed an 8-0 run that started in the late first quarter and continued to the early second, as the gap reached the highest point of the first half, 33-17.
Tessitori was the only one who made things possible for Italy, but against a combined effort of the Serbian team, where nine players scored already in the first 20 minutes, it was too tough, and the break showed Serbia hold a 41-27 lead.
The second half started with two different teams on the court, as Italy put pressure on the ball, started making shots from close and far range and all of a sudden had the lead after scoring 17 points with no answer.
Majic stole the ball at half court and was on his way for a comfortable points, but was blocked by Landi from behind yet this was eventually Serbia's wake up call.
In the following possession the Serb forward hit a big drop step bucket to break the curse after almost eight minutes of drought in field goals and just two points from the foul line to tie the score on 45-45.
Imbro hit a big three pointer to tie the game at 50-50 and added another one off the dribble in a few seconds to give his team a 50-53 lead before the closing 10 minutes, yet Serbia had the final word.
Dordevic tied the score in the first play of the last period, and with seven minutes on the game clock Imbro scored a lay-up to keep Serbia tight with a 59-59 tie, only this was the last voice of Italy in the game.
Guard Stefan Pot came off the bench to put great pressure on Imbro and together with the contribution of Majic and Radicevic on the offensive end led a 14-0 run to leave the win on the Serbian bench.