Turning Point: Olexandr Mishula hit a three with 6:59 left to cut the gap. It seemed to suck some of the momentum out of the Belgians and the Ukraine Train moved on.
Stats Don't Lie: Belgium shot just 4 of 12 in the fourth quarter and failed to convert another three-pointer. Ukraine were 3/6 on threes down the stretch. It made the difference.
Game Hero: Pooh Jeter had an inconsistent game offensively but with 3.1 seconds left, he drove into the paint, converted the floater and drew a foul which sealed a dramatic victory.
|Olexandr Mishula was instrumental in Ukraine's game-winning run|
Pooh Jeter's three-point play in the dying seconds sealed a dramatic 58-57 win for Ukraine over Belgium in their opening Group A game in Ljubljana.
Trailing by as much as 13, the persistence of Mike Fratello's side paid off as they denied the Lions what would have been a momentous result.
With Christophe Beghin contributing a team-high 14 points, they looked poised for the upset but at the very end, it slipped away as their attempt to get off a final shot failed.
"I don't think there's anything more you can ask from your players," said Belgian coach Eddy Casteels.
"The way they fought for this win. You can maybe name 50 situations where we gave up one point, missing layups, missed shots...We knew [Ukraine] would never give up. They'd play until the last second. And that's how they got the win."
Both teams struggled to find their rhythm early with chances missed. Just what you'd expect from an initial game in an unfamiliar arena. However Axel Hervelle, Belgium's long-time catalyst, sparked them into action, hitting a three-pointer that keyed a 12-1 run which sent his side 19-12 clear with 7:02 left in the second period.
The Ukrainians were getting little from their starters and were toiling from outside. They looked into the paint, throwing numbers and bodies at their opponents but Belgium pushed back. Jonathan Tabu completed a fast break to round off a burst of seven unanswered points which had Belgium leading 31-18.
Inevitably, the pressure came. Sergii Gladyr hit a three that cut the deficit to 36-26 and that provided hope. Ukraine's defence was raised a notch, using superior size to halt Belgium's penetration. The gap closed to five. However their opponents' energy proved electric.
Tabu was instrumental as his side pulled away late in the third period, scrapping for rebounds and then converting second chances. Beghin increased the Belgian lead to 50-40 with a jumper at the outset of the fourth.
Yet Ukraine remained active. Ihor Zaystev - who came off the bench to claim a game-high 16 points - buried from deep, followed swiftly by Olexandr Mishula. A 9-2 run turned up the pressure. The boisterous Belgium support were on edge and, ultimately, they were left disappointed.
Beghin put his team up 57-55 with 1:41 remaining but that was to be their last score. Vlacheslav Kravtsov delivered a perfect block on Sam van Rossom that halted one last drive to land a decisive blow.
And it was left to Jeter to steal the show, and the game, drawing contact with Hervelle and seizing his opportunity from the line.
"We're very fortunate the way the game turned out from the stand point of having scored only 26 points in first half," admitted Ukraine coach Fratello.
"We have to do a better job in our execution. Our opponents played extremely well. I thought in the second half, the tempo changed a little bit. It got into a scramble and that helped us a bit."