|Stepped up to send the game into overtime: Amedeo Della Valle|
A never-say-die Italy emerged triumphant 75-72 over Lithuania after a sublime overtime thriller on Friday and clinched the last semi-final berth at the Sportland U20 European Championship.
TURNING POINT: Italy were trailing 65-61 nine seconds from the end of regulation when Awudu Abass, with two sets of Lithuanian arms in his face, drilled a triple from the right corner to cut the gap to 65-64; Lithuania made it 67-64 from the foul line and then Amedeo Della Valle saved just behind the arc an in-bound pass that seemed lost, turned around and hit the three on one leg with less than two seconds on the clock to send the game into overtime.
GAME HEROES: Eric Lombardi and Abass were not only Italy's top scorers, but also the instigators of the fantastic third-quarter 14-0 run that enabled Italy to turn the game on its head.
STATS DON'T LIE: Italy stole the ball 18 times and Lithuania committed 25 turnovers, off which Italy scored 33 points; Italy also got 20 points in the open court, to Lithuania's 10.
Italy prevailed in one of the best games in the tournament in Tallinn so far thanks to an improbable sequence of events, but also because of their winning attitude and enormous fighting spirit.
Lithuania were the best team in the first half of the encounter as they were successful in completely throwing Italy off their game and making the most out of their size advantage (they outrebounded their opponents 48-39 after 45 minutes).
The Baltic side could have in fact maybe taken a bigger than 33-27 lead at half-time were it not for their propensity to turnovers.
The third quarter however belonged to the Azzurri.
When, midway through their 14-0 run, and immediately after they had taken their first lead since the opening exchanges, 37-35, first Abass and then Lagana blocked consecutive shots to deny their bigger opponents easy baskets inside the paint, everyone on the Italian team suddenly grew taller.
Italy's run gave them a six-point lead but 4:05 from the end of the third frame Osvaldas Olisevicius stole a ball and scored on the fast break for the shell-shocked Lithuanians, ending a dry spell that had lasted almost six minutes.
Lithuania clawed their way back and regained the lead swiftly after the end of the fourth stanza.
They seemed to be taking the decisive step to victory when Vaidas Kariniauskas took over and drove to the basket on consecutive possesions, the second just 17 seconds before the end of regulation.
But then Abass and Della Valle performed the minor miracles that took the game to overtime and Italy were simply convinced that they cannot lose this anymore.
Lagana made a big steal in half-court to give them the lead, 73-72 with 1:33 to play in the extra period and then the Italian defence piled on the pressure on the Lithuanians, forcing them to waste three shots before Matteo Imbro wrote the final score from the free-throw line.
Lombardi collected a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds and Abass finished with 14 points, four rebounds, five steals and two blocks; For Lithuania, Olisevicius finished with a team-high 14 points.