by Yarone Arbel
A great finish down the stretch by Latvia bestowed them a 63-58 victory over Israel in the Classification Round of the U16 European Championship at Osnovna Skola Jugoslavija in Bar, Montenegro on Wednesday afternoon.
Both parties were tied before the game, but now Latvia stand on 2-1 while Israel dropped to 1-2 at the end of the first round of games in the group.
The teams will go head-to-head also in the last and final day of the competition and Israel would hope that game will still matter, but until then will face Germany after the rest day while Latvia will take on Denmark in hope to keep the good momentum going.
Oskars Reinfelds and Ceslavs Mateikovics had 15 points each while the first also added 11 rebounds.
Maxim Kikus led Israel with 16 points while Egor Koulechov had 14 with eight rebounds
A close game for more than 35 minutes was cut by a 10-0 run by Latvia that eventually decided the game.
Both teams suffered from a bad shooting day, but Latvia were more concentrated when the game was on the line, and left Israel behind with a bitter taste.
Israel scored the first four points of the night, and Rafael Menco added another jumper to make it 2-8, and Yaniv Solomon with a big dunk kept Israel above 10-15 after eight minutes.
Latvia found points from various players to stay in the game, and Reinfelds scored his first points only after 18 minutes to put hit team above with a 24-23 lead.
Kikus answered with a three pointer and a pair from the line, but saw Roberts Krastins hit three in a row from the foul line right before the buzzer and give his team a 29-28 lead at the break.
Reinfelds and Koulechov exchanged baskets, as the teams remained glued to each other and marched into the last quarter tied at 42-42.
Menco scored his first points in the second half with 5:30 to go and wrote a 49-53 Israel lead but here things came to a stop on the Israeli side.
Sandis Ceplitis hit from the three to ignite a 10-0 run in the next 3:30 minutes and keep Israel behind by six points, 59-53 inside the last 120 seconds.
Down by six Israel was looking for a change, but scored only five points until the buzzer, and eventually finished with an aching loss.