Turning Point: Luigi Datome, with all the calm in the world, hit a shot right at the buzzer to tie the scores at 70 and send the game into overtime; then, with 2:02 left in the extra period, Alessandro Gentile split the Spanish defence, capping it off with a lay-up on an 8-0 run that enabled Italy to take an 80-72 lead, their biggest since early in the second quarter of regulation.
Game Hero: Pietro Aradori scored nine points in the final seven minutes of regulation to propel the Italian comeback, but Gentile, the youngest player on the floor, finished with a team-high 25 points on 11-for-11 free throw shooting. They overshadowed Marc Gasol, who picked up an international career-high and tournament-high 32 points and added 10 rebounds.
Stats Don't Lie: Italy, the smallest team in the tournament in terms of size, out-rebounded Spain 48-38 and made up for their 17 turnovers by shooting 58.5% from two-point range.
|Alessandro Gentile may have been the youngest player on the court on Monday night, but he played with the coolness of a seasoned veteran, finishing with a team-high 25 points|
Italy abolished a 12-point early lead, trailed by as many as 15 points in the fourth, but came back to force overtime and claim a famous 86-81 win over Spain on Monday, securing third spot in Group F.
Both teams had already secured their presence in the quarter-finals but during the battle for third place they treated the crowd in Stozice Arena to a highly entertaining, very competitive, roller coaster ride.
"Also in the First Round against Sweden we played to win, because I think one needs to respect the EuroBasket, the opportunity to play at this level and also to construct a winning mentality for this essentially young group," Luigi Datome said after the game when asked why Italy tried so hard.
"It was the first time I was playing against Spain at senior level and I think we all wanted to see if we can compete," he added.
Interestingly Marco Belinelli, who scored 10 points in the opening quarter to kick-start Italy's dreamy 24-12 start to the game, offered a similar to Datome's explanation.
"The game was not really important for Spain or for us, because we are in [the quarter-finals] anyway, but at the same time I've never played against Spain so that was a good motivation for us to improve our game, to correct some things about our game," the Italy guard said.
"I think tonight was important for our confidence, for our motivation - everyone now is so happy."
Alex Mumbru, with an acrobatic shot under the basket on the first possession of the second frame, sparked a 12-0 run that enabled Spain to tie the scores at 24 swiftly, on a Sergio Rodriguez triple 6:06 from the half-time buzzer.
|Pietro Aradori had 17 points in the Italian victory|
Gentile came up with big personal plays and nine points after that to prevent Spain from pulling away and the two sides headed to the locker rooms at the interval with the scores tied at 37.
Nothing and nobody could stop Marc Gasol in the third though.
Spain forced Italy to undergo a seven-minute dry spell as the Spanish star instigated Spain's second 12-0 run on the night, which turned a 43-42 deficit into a 54-43 lead, on an imperial Gasol dunk 1:14 from the end of the period.
The Spanish big man had collected 15 points in the third period alone and when his team pulled ahead 60-45 on a Sergio Rodriguez lay-up in transition 8:41 from the fourth buzzer, the crowd at Stozice Arena believed that the reigning European champions had finally imposed their will.
Italy however thought otherwise and made every possession count, first by reducing turnovers, which had hurt them enormously till then.
"I think we played good defence on Marc in the last quarter, we played together, moved the ball side to side, Ale [Alessandro Gentile], Ara [Piero Aradori], Cicia [Andrea Ciciarini], everybody, did something tonight to win this game," Belinelli said.
Aradori's sharp shooting in that stretch helped Italy chip away at the gap and Gentile made a lay-up on the fast break to bring his team within two points, 70-68, with just 21 seconds left on the clock in regulation.
Rodriguez missed two free throws with 20 seconds remaining and Belinelli split the Spanish defence, missed the lay-up, but Spanish hands threw the ball out of bounds with just over 2 seconds remaining.
It proved time enough for Datome to receive, spin and take aim to hit the shot that sent the game into overtime.
The momentum had shifted for good and Italy's 8-0 run early in the extra period left Spain chasing the score with precious little time left for a reply.