|Paolo Marinelli masterminded Croatia's offence|
Croatia punched their ticket to the Second Round of the U20 European Championship on Crete by prevailing 72-62 over Montenegro in the encounter that concluded Friday's Group C action.
Turning Point: Montenegro had worked their way back from a 17-point deficit to reduce to four points when, 4:55 from the end of the third quarter, Paolo Marinelli split their defence and made it 49-43 for Croatia with a floating lay-up. His basket sparked a 13-4 Croatian burst to end the period and his team recuperated their double-digit lead, 60-47. It wasn't such big a margin, but it proved big enough for them to weather out the five-minute long dry spell they endured at the start of the final frame.
Game Hero: Marinelli did not have his best shooting night but during Croatia's best stretches he read the Montenegro zone defence in exemplary fashion, making sure the ball circulates well and creating open looks for his team-mates on the weak side. The Croatian guard finished with 12 points, five assists and two rebounds.
Stats Don't Lie: Croatia were patient and dished out 15 assists during the first 21 minutes of play, when they enjoyed their best minutes and constructed their biggest cushion in the game. They only had three assists in the remaining 19 minutes of the game.
The Bottom Line: Croatia have improved to 2-1 and secured a spot from Group C in the Second Round (together with Turkey, the first team to qualify) regardless of what happens in their Saturday game against the Czech Republic, which has now been eliminated from contention. Montenegro face a do-or-die clash with Italy on Saturday for the third ticket from the group.