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Greece win thriller at buzzer, become first European team to qualify for 2019 World Cup
TBILISI (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - Greece came back from a 17-point deficit to beat Georgia 86-85 on a layup at the buzzer by Kostas Papanikolaou to become the first European nation to qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 with a perfect 8-0 record in the European Qualifiers.
Nick Calathes poured in 31 points with 7 three-pointers to go with 7 assists for Greece. Papanikolaou added 15 points and Kostas Sloukas chipped in 14 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists as Greece improved their record in Group L to 8-0 . That secured a top-three spot in the group and thereby becoming the first European side to lock up a ticket for China 2019.
.@Nick_Calathes15 TO PAPANIKOLAOU FOR THE WIN ON THE BUZZER! #FIBAWC #ThisIsMyHouse@HellenicBF 🇬🇷— Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWC) September 16, 2018
📝 https://t.co/pBU9D7bidS pic.twitter.com/b6t5AdYgG2
Georgia had the support of a sold-out Sports Palace Tbilisi with 9,000 fans but it was not enough despite 22 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals from Tornike Shengelia while Goga Bitadze and Matt Janning but added 17 points and Giorgi Shermadini had 11 points in the loss.
Turning point: Georgia built a 17-point lead in the first half - the biggest deficit Greece have faced in the Qualifiers - and the gap was still 6 points with 1:24 minutes left after a Shengalia layup to make it 85-79. But an Antetokounmpo dunk was followed by a steal and three-pointer from Papanikolaou to make it a one-point game. Greece grabbed the long rebound on a long three-pointer at the end of the shot clock by Shengalia with the ball landing in Calathes' hands and the point guard raced forward and dished to Papanikolaou, who released the game-winning layup just before the buzzer for the win.
Game hero: Calathes was all over for Greece with 31 points on 12-20 shooting, including 7-11 three-pointers, to go with 7 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals.
Stats don't lie: Greece hit 14-28 (50 percent) from three-point range compared to 8-24 (33 percent) for Georgia. Greece also picked up 19 points off turnovers as well as 23 fast break points - with Georgia getting 14 points in each category.
Bottom line: Greece managed to remain perfect in Group L at 8-0 and booked their ticket to China - as the first European team to do so. After a break until November, Greece's next opponents in the Qualifiers will be at home versus Germany and at Serbia. Georgia missed a chance to put the pressure on Serbia as they dropped to 3-5 in the hunt for third place in Group L. Georgia's next window has them playing at Estonia and hosting Israel.
They said: "What a game for both teams. I want to congratulate Georgia for giving us everything they had. To start off the game, they came out more ready than us. We gave up 30 points in the first quarter. We had to settle down, settle in and get some defensive stops. In the second half I thought in the third quarter we got back in it. I think coach did a great job of playing small ball, making that change to take out our big and go small and put (Ioannis) Papapetrou, Thanasis (Antetokounmpo) and (Kostas) Papanikolaou at the 3, 4 and 5 to give us some shooters to spread the floor and let me and Sloukas create and open it up. I thought it also got our defensive pressure to turn the ball over for them with press and traps to get us back in it and give us a chance to be able to win at the end. I think we were down 6 with 1:10 and we made big shots and we played great defense. The ball landed in our favor. (Tornike) Shengelia missed a long shot, we got the rebound and you saw the ending. Those kind of plays happen and I'm glad it went our way and we're glad to get the win." - Greece guard Nick Calathes
"It was up there for sure. I felt good, my shot was feeling good. They were giving me the three-pointer. For us to get the win it meant a lot. I think there's probably been more important games in the European Championship, World Championship. But this means a lot for us because it gives us our place in China to play for the World Championship so I would put it up there close to one of the best." - Calathes on his performance when asked if it was the best or one of the best games in his national team career
"I would like to congratulate my team for a very big game we played today and also for our qualification to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019. I would like to congratulate the team of Georgia. We played a great game together tonight. Score, power, energy, everything was up tonight. It was a great game for both teams. At the end of the game we were a bit more lucky and we take the game with an easy lay-up. We decided to play defense, not to foul in the last seconds as we saw that we had a minimum of five seconds and we take the risk and maybe if we have a timeout we can get a basket. I believe the small ball game we choose to play with the 5 guards and no big man inside was a very good option for us. It helped us a lot with the switching defense. We had a big problem of course with Shengelia but he's a great player and we know it's very difficult to stop him. So our effort was to make the minimum not to stop him because we understand it's difficult. I want to say that my players gave everything and played as a team. In the second half they supported each other and fought for rebounds and had a good passing game. Our plan from the beginning was to play with the guts as we don't have our experience big guys and it was a good idea as Nick and Sloukas had amazing games to get this big victory." - Greece head coach Thanasis Skourtopoulos
"I thought we played with great effort and great intensity tonight. The team was definitely prepared to fight. I thought we made a lot of really good plays, everybody played together. Defensively we were pretty solid. We just couldn't make one extra play to win the game. Congratulations to Greece, they played very well, made a lot of big shots in the fourth quarter to keep them in the game and it was enough to get them the win tonight." - Georgia guard Matt Janning
"First of all I would like to say congratulations to my players. They fought all game, they did a great job. We deserved to win today. We played much better. Unfortunately in basketball you need to have also luck and we didn't have the luck. We could win the game as we lost at the very last second. We made some mistakes because some players it was very normal from their big effort they were very tired. But the only thing we have to keep is the energy, the fight, the pride of the Georgian team. I would like to say big thanks to the fans who support the team so much, all the time, not only today but specially today." - Georgia head coach Ilias Zouros