Silver medal holders Lithuania will return to the EuroBasket semi-finals after prevailing 95-85 over Italy in overtime on Wednesday, in the most intense and dramatic of all four quarter-final clashes in Lille.
Turning Point: With 3:56 remaining to the end of the extra session, Danilo Gallinari tipped the ball in following an Andrea Bargnani miss to tie the scores for the ninth time on the night, 81-all. Both teams wasted two possessions each but with 2:47 left to play, Paulius Jankunas drew a foul from Gallinari and made both his free-throws to put Lithuania ahead. The Lithuanian defence denied Gallinari the lane, he settled for a contested long two and missed, and on the other end Mantas Kalnietis drilled a three from the top of the key to give Lithuania a five-point cushion, 86-81, with 1:49 on the clock.
Stats Don't Lie: Lithuania made certain concessions on defence, especially with the pick'n'pop, but had a clear idea where to draw the line and although the game went into overtime they still kept the second-best offence at EuroBasket to 85 points, which is one below Italy's average. Lithuania were so economical with their three-point attempts that they only shot from long-range whenever they got a clean look - their 28 assists helped towards that direction - and were rewarded with a fantastic 11-of-18 from beyond the arc.
Game Hero: Jonas Valanciunas lost some battles under the rim and did not always make the right decisions on the defensive end but was tremendously efficient and pulled off the big plays when it mattered. The Lithuanian big man stayed on the floor for almost 39 minutes, more than in any other game in the tournament and collected a double-double of 26 points and 15 rebounds.
Bottom Line: Lithuania have survived the toughest battle of the quarter-final stage at EuroBasket and will face Serbia in what is their fourth semi-final appearance in the modern era. Italy will play against the Czech Republic in the classification for the Olympic qualifying tournament, where Lithuania have now secured a berth even in the event they do not advance further.
They Said: "Italy always scores more than 80 points and before the game we discussed that we will have to score more if we're going to win this. It was the first time that we started planning from offence rather than defence" - Lithuania head coach Jonas Kazlauskas.
|Amongst the hoarde of NBA talent on the Italian roster, Alessandro Gentilehas arguably been making some of the biggest waves|
The quarter-final stage of EuroBasket 2015 comes to a wrap when the star-studded Italians, who keep growing better every game, come up against Lithuania, who continue to find a way to win in tight situations.
Record: Italy LWWLW v Lithuania WWLWWW
Italy got past Israel to book their spot in the quarter-finals while Lithuania survived a battle with Georgia to move into the top eight. Italy and Lithuania faced off in the quarter-finals of EuroBasket 2013 with Lithuania winning 81-77 en route to the final while Italy lost their next two games to finish eighth and miss out on the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Key Match-Up: Alessandro Gentile v Jonas Maciulis
Gentile has been a huge part of Italy's run to the top eight - both offensively and defensively. Maciulis showed he's a big game performer in the Round of 16 with 34 points, six rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocks. But the Lithuanian had been averaging 10.8 points before the big outburst against Georgia.
Key Stat: Italy can score with the best of the best, averaging 86.0 points per game - ranking them third in the competition. But they have not been able to stop teams from scoring, giving up 81.0 points per game - ranking them 21st in EuroBasket 2015. Lithuania only give up 69.5 points per game.
|"I don't think any average team can beat Spain, that means they are a great team" - Lithuania head coach Jonas Kazlauskas Jonas Kazlauskas|
"I feel enormous respect for Lithuania as a nation first of all, I have worked with several Lithuanians in my career and I know fist-hand that they are a people who lives for basketball" - Italy head coach Simone Pianigiani.
"They are a great team with a lot of great players. They are unbelievable three-point shooters and good at one-on-one. I don't think any average team can beat Spain, that means they are a great team" - Lithuania head coach Jonas Kazlauskas
Italy is dealing with injuries with captain Luigi Datome out for the remainder of the tournament whilst Andrea Bargnani is a game-time decision.