Poland opened the OMNITEL U18 European Championship at the Siemens Arena in Vilnius, Lithuania on Thursday afternoon with a big 89-82 victory over Slovnia in Group A.
With this win Poland takes a 1-0 record before their game tomorrow against the host team of Lithuania, while Slovenia dropped to 0-1 and will try to write their debut victory against Ukraine the next day.
"There were two main reasons why we lost the game," explained coach Aleksander Sekulic of Slovenia. "We didn't foul when they were around the rim which allowed them easy baskets, and they took too many offensive rebounds."
The last of them was picked by Poland's Przemyslaw Karnowski inside the last minute with his team up by just 3 points, keeping Poland safe from a possible tie, and eventually decided the game.
Mateusz Ponitka was the top scorer of Poland with 20 points, Tomasz Gielo added 17, Przemyslaw Karnowski had 12 with 13 rebounds and Mateusz Dziemba 11.
Marko Pajic led Slovenia with 16 points and 12 rebounds, Luka Rupnik had 15, Jan Span scored 13 and Alen Omic had 11 with 10 rebounds.
Slovenia enjoyed a better start and scored the first 5 points of the game, but Ponikta and Karnowski took over and carried their team to a 21-19 1st quarter lead.
Rupnik fought back and was on target for Slovenia, and another hit from the arc put them back on top 27-28, but that landmarked Poland's reply with a 15-3 run, enough for a 49-44 half time lead.
The lead changed back and forth, but once again Poland found the path to create a run, scoring 8 points in a row by 4 different players, and climb to a 65-59 3rd quarter difference.
"Our team have a very big heart," said Coach Piotr Bakun of the winning side. "We played good defense and managed to stop them on only one made three pointer in the 2nd half," he pin-pointed another aspect for the win.
Gielo with a big dunk and Dziemba with a lay up pushed the margin to 12 inside the last 5 minutes, but Slovenia found inspiration in team play as they scored the next 9 points and make it a mere 3 point game, 80-77 inside the last 2 minutes of the game.
Ponitka with a huge jumper followed by a corner three pointer pushed the gap back to 85-80 before Span cut it to 3 from the free throw line.
Then came the big offensive board by Karnowski, and after Span missed an open lay up, Gielo sealed the deal.