By Jared Grellet
|Dario Saric was unstoppable and led Croatia to gold with an impressive all-around performance|
Turning Point: Having stuck round for the best part of four quarters, Lithuania's fight was finally deflated when Dario Saric nailed a three-pointer with 2:26 remaining, putting Croatia ahead 76-66
Game Hero: Dario Saric, showing just why he is Europe's best prospect for his generation, finishing with 39 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
Stats Don't Lie: 39 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. Saric made this a one-man show.
Dario Saric has saved his best for last at the Samsung U18 European Championship, scoring 39 points to see Croatia past hosts Lithuania 88-76 in the gold medal game.
Saric's impact on the game was immediate with the forward already collecting two points, an assist and a block within the first minute of play. By the end of the opening period the forward had nearly outscored the entire Lithuanian team with his 12 points assisting Croatia to a 22-15 lead.
Exactly halfway through the second quarter and having scored 16 of his team's 31 points to have Croatia leading by nine points, Saric committed his third personal foul, forcing coach Jaksa Vulic to sub the star out.
Lithuania made the most of Saric's absence and despite the star returning for the final minute of the half, Lithuania were still able to make it a three-point ball game (36-33) on a Lukas Lekavicius lay-up moments before the buzzer sounded.
At the half it was not just Saric in foul trouble with Lithuania's star from an evening previous, Marius Grigonis also registering three in the opening two quarters.
After Lithuania scored the final four points of the first half, Lukas Lekavicius made sure the run continued in the third quarter, hitting back-to-back jump-shots before Jokubas Gintvainis sunk a three to give Lithuania the lead for the first time in the game.
But with Grigonis drawing his fourth foul of the night moments later, Lithuania's run was halted as the forward moved to the bench for a breather with seven minutes still to play in the frame.
Lithuania lost their way with Grigonis out of the game, as Croatia bounced back to score the next 10 points, forcing Arunas Visockas to call a time-out.
The timeout worked to some affect and with Justas Tamulis landing a three to signal the last points of the third quarter, the deficit was at five, 58-53.
With Croatia going back out to a double-digit lead early in the final quarter tempers began to flare and following a heated hustle between Karlo Zganec and Simas Raupys under the Croatian basket, both players found themselves ejected from the game.
Down 67-55, it was Lithuania who responded best following the incident, scoring the next six points to be back within six on another Tamulis three.
But it was Saric's night and when he registered his 39th point of the night with a three-pointer with 2:20 to play, Croatia were back up by 10 and Lithuania was not coming back again.
Four other Croatians joined Saric in double figures as Tomislav Gabric contributed 14 points off the bench; Jakov Mustapic picked up 11, also from the bench; whilst Mislav Brzoja and Dominik Mavra both ended with 10.
Grigonis led Lithuania with 17 points.