Game Hero: Rice finished with 16 points and five assists, thanks to his late game heroics, which included 10 points and six points in the last 1:44.
Stats Don't Lie: Led by Milko Bjelica, Montenegro's bench provided some much needed assistance, outscoring Macedonia 22 to 9.
|Tyrese Rice repaid his coaches' faith in him, giving Montenegro 10 game-winning points in the last two minutes.|
Montenegro opened their EuroBasket campaign with a thrilling 81-80 win over F.Y.R of Macedonia in an intense Group B encounter.
Neither side paid much attention to defence in the early stages of the game with players strolling to the basket with ease. Bo McCalebb's fancy handles and outside touch resulted in seven quick points, but it was Suad Sehovic scoring seven of Montenegro's first eight points, highlighted by a vicious dunk in transition, that proved to be the highlight of the quarter.
Nikola Vucevic came in off the bench and provided an instant impact for Montenegro, bullying his way to a quick basket before blocking a shot down the other end.
The team found a groove with the 22-year-old patrolling the middle, taking their first lead of the game when Sehovic cleaned up a blown alley-oop dunk with just 20 seconds remaining.
"We played well in the first half and second quarter, all the way up until the end of the second when they made a run and took a lead and we couldn't get it back until the end of the game," Vucevic said of his side's early play.
The Montenegrin run blew out to nine unanswered points early in the second, only coming to a stop when McCalebb darted the length of the court to convert an acrobatic layup.
Vlado Ilievski kept F.Y.R of Macedonia in touch, but a backbreaking Montenegrin run featuring six points to Vladmir Dasic and a triple to Sehovic on three consecutive possessions blew the lead out to 11.
Undeterred, F.Y.R of Macedonia climbed back behind a 14-2 run over the final four minutes, taking a one-point lead on a Pero Antic three with less than a second remaining before the halftime horn.
Both teams struggled to find their shots after the major break, but a miraculous steal and coast-to-coast layup from McCalebb brought the deafening Macedonian travelling contingent to their feet and life back to the game.
A double-handed dunk in traffic from Vucevic ensured Montenegro would stick around for at least another quarter before five late points to Milko Bjelica cut the lead to three with 10 minutes to play.
F.Y.R of Macedonia held a seven-point lead as late as the final four-and-a-half minutes but Rice took control of what seemed like a certain Montenegrin loss. An athletic layup, a jump shot and a trip to the free throw line cut the lead to one before one foray into the lane sent the 26-year-old to the line again, sealing the result with two more foul shots with 10 seconds remaining.
"Coach just said ‘attack'," Rice said of his instructions from coach Luka Pavicevic.
"Get the ball in the pick-and-roll and attack. That's all it was.
"We just stayed with it, kept fighting, got the stops of defence and it got the win for us."
"With five minutes to go we started playing our game, which is defence, we're really controlling the game at that end," Vucevic added.
"At the end of the game we had a huge stop and Tyrese Rice made two free throws. We needed that for our confidence."