Turning Point: Ukraine had chipped away on a 12-point gap to reduce to 62-58 but Kyryl Natyazhko misfired from the baseline and Goran Dragic darted down the court to score an amazing lay-up on the fast break; Eugene Jeter split two free throws and Dragic replied with a three-pointer to give Slovenia a 67-59 cushion going into the final three minutes.
Game Hero: Goran Dragic provided the hosts with an inexhaustible energy source and Ukraine with a constant headache. The Slovenian point guard finished with a game-high 19 points and dished out four assists along with seven rebounds.
Stats Don't Lie: Ukraine only shot the ball at 32% from the floor until the final quarter, and only 10 of their points came from inside the paint during the first 30 minutes. Slovenia controlled the glass and out-rebounded their guests 48 to 34, scoring 20 second-chance points.
|Jaka Lakovic (centre) recieved a standing ovation from a sell-out crowd in Stozice in what was his final game for the Slovenian national team|
EuroBasket 2013 hosts Slovenia overcame a slow start on Saturday and held off Ukraine late to clinch a 69-63 victory and finish their home tournament in fifth place.
It was above all a highly emotional occasion, as all Slovenia players and staff stayed on the court after the final buzzer to celebrate the success together with the capacity-crowd in Stozice Arena and most of all pay tribute to Jaka Lakovic, who thanked fans for their support and announced his retirement from international duty.
"I hope that Jaka reconsiders and this was not really his last game, but if it is, I am happy to have played with him on the national team," Zoran Dragic said afterwards of the veteran point guard.
"He is a great player who has played for some of the best teams in Europe and I am happy to have learned from him."
"We also played for Jaka today, he's given his heart and soul to the national team and showed the way to us younger guys," Domen Lorbek added.
All omens were promising a highly entertaining basketball clash as two of the most athletic teams in the tournament were going head-to-head in the game for 5th, and it became immediately apparent they were both more than keen to finish their EuroBasket campaign on a high note.
Ukraine appeared to have the fresher legs of the two during the opening quarter of what was the 11th game in less than three weeks for both sides.
Sergii Gladyr drilled a triple from the left wing with 45 seconds on the clock to cap a 10-0 Ukraine run and the guests led 23-16 at the first buzzer.
Slovenia had already introduced most of their second unit just before the end of the first and as Edo Muric with Gaspar Vidmar combined for 11 points in an explosive start to the second, the hosts pulled ahead 27-23 on a Vidmar dunk in transition with 6:23 still to play in the period.
|Goran Dragic was the only Slovenian to make it into double figures, ending with 19|
Goran Dragic poured in seven points within 46 seconds to give Slovenia a 40-30 lead, but Maksym Pustozvonov and Eugene Jeter sunk one three-pointer apiece on Ukraine's last two possessions in the first half to reduce the gap to 40-36 at the break.
Despite those two late two triples, Slovenia had seen enough in the second to realise that this game would be won on defensive effort.
The hosts tightened the screws further at the back and especially inside, leaving Ukraine with open looks only at the perimeter.
After Jure Balazic hit a triple from the right shoulder with 1:18 left in the third, Slovenia got a stop on defence and Vidmar finished the fast break with a one-handed dunk to give them their biggest lead in the game, 54-42, with 54 seconds remaining to the third buzzer.
Big man Ihor Zaytsev scored eight of his 12 points at the start of final frame and, most importantly, finally produced results for Ukraine inside the paint.
Zaytsev hit a jumper to reduce to 62-58 with 4:31 left to play but Goran Dragic returned to the court after a well-deserved spell on the bench and put the game to rest with his late burst.
"We said in the locker rooms ahead of the game that we need to win this for our incredible fans, for all the support that they gave us," Lorbek said.
"We didn't win a medal but our fans won gold in this tournament."
The youngest of the Dragic brothers echoed the sentiment.
"This game was for our fans, we were playing for 5th place but there were 12,000 people inside today, as if we were playing in the final," he said.
"I am little bit sad because we didn't play for the medals, but I think we have golden fans."