Lithuania Defeat Israel In Final Seconds


It took Lithuania almost 36 minutes to grab a meaningful lead in their semi-final against Israel at the ACI Trading Ltd U20 European Championship Men in Chekov on Saturday evening.

But once they had the advantage, the Lithuanians held on for a thrilling victory that sees them through to Sunday's final against hosts Russia.

Lithuania were dominant in the opening stages of the tournament but have found the going tougher as they advanced to the latter stages, winning a tight contest against Serbia & Montenegro (67-62) and losing to Latvia, 74-77.

Arturas Jomantas (Lithuania)
Arturas Jomantas
In today's game they trailed for almost the entire contest, taking the lead for just the third time in the 38th minute on a Rolandas Alijevas lay-up.

It was not a vintage performance from Lithuania, a fact which coach Rimas Kurtinaitis freely admitted after the game.

"Usually we play better, but I dont know what happened," he said.

"For sure this was the pyschology of the game. We missed a lot of shots, of good shots. Usually Lithuanians are always good three-point shooters, but today we hit 6/29 so this is a really bad result. Again we had some problems with free throws, we missed 15 free throws."

Kurtinaitis was also quick to praise his opponents. 

"Israel played a perfect game. They were smart, they had control of the game because we just want to run and gun. Tonight it was really difficult to do this," he said.

Israel looked like they meant business from the opening tip. Rising star Lior Eliyahu was the catalyst for the offense as he amassed 10 points in the first period, and his alley-oop dunk gave Israel an early 10-point lead, 16-6.

Lithuania battled back in the second quarter and a Renaldas Seibutis three-pointer gave them a 30-33 lead at halftime.

Just as it looked as though Lithuania would begin to assert their authority, Israel stepped up a notch and once again built a small lead.

Elad Eliyahu hit a three-pointer at the end of the quarter and Israel led 48-41 after 30 minutes.

When Lithuania began to come back, they did so through a combination of their trademark defense and outside shooting. Mantas Ruikis began an 11-2 run with a three-pointer following Lior Eliyahu's miss from the free throw line.

2 minutes later, it was Seibutis who found Ruikis on the fast break after a Jonas Macuilius steal. Ruikis glanced quickly at his feet to make sure he was behind the arc and nailed the three-pointer to bring his side back to within 2 points, 58-56.

Just as Lithuania were in reach, Israel pulled away again to lead by 5 points, 64-59 with just over 2 minutes to play.

Lithuania, however, remained calm.

Arturas Jomantas drained 2 free throws and made a lay-up to cut the score to 3 points, 64-61. On the following play, Israel's Niv Berkowitz was called for an unsportsmanslike foul after holding Jomantas back on a fast break.

Jomantas made just one of two from the line, but Lithuania retained possession and he made up for his error with a lay-up to tie the score at 64-64.

Lior Eliyahu (Israel)
Lior Eliyahu

The Lithuanian defense came up with a steal through Alijevas on the next play and he went straight to the hoop and was fouled, making the bonus and putting his side in front, 64-67.

Israel answered to cut the score to 1-point, and when Ruikis missed a three, they had one last possession to go for the game winner.

It was Ben Chimol who ended up with the final shot, but his buzzer-beating effort fell short and Lithuania were the winners.

"I think we really believed in our victory and we put our hearts on the court maybe a little more," Kurtinaitis explained of his side's win.

Jomantas finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds for Lithuania. Maciulis added 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Lior Eliyahu had a game high 27 points for Israel.

Despite the win, Kurtinaitis was circumspect about his chances against Russia.

"We have a lot of things we can do better, but I don't want to say that we will be better tomorrow. This victory was very important for us and I think emotionally it will push us higher.

My opinion as a coach is that Russia is a little stronger than we are, but we are ready to fight for the gold."

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