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Russia fight back from 18-point deficit to defeat Finland and qualify for World Cup
PERM (Russia) - Finland needed to win by three points, and they owned an 18-point lead in the first half. But Russia came up big in the fourth quarter, knocking down 7-of-9 three-pointers to win it 91-76 and book a flight to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 draw in Shenzhen on March 16.
Turning point: Final score doesn't paint the true picture on how close this game was. Finland had the early lead, and it lasted all the way through to the fourth quarter. But, as Mikko Koivisto missed all three of his free throws with Finland up 67-64 and 8:00 to play, you could sense the crowd excitement rising and the momentum shifting.
Andrey Vorontsevich answered with a three-pointer to tie the score, and had two more at 79-74 and 82-76 going into the last two minutes of the encounter. Once Dmitry Khvostov's off-balance shot-clock-beating triple went in, it was clear that Russia were heading towards China.
Game hero: Dmitrii Kulagin was doing Dmitrii Kulagin things, finishing with a game-high 22 points. But Vorontsevich was the one who put the team on his back late in the game, taking responsibility and booking another trip to the summit. Vorontsevich finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
Stats don't lie: Finland started hot, but Russia finished way hotter. The 7-of-9 three-point shooting in the final stanza took them to a solid 46 percent for the game (12-of-26), way better than Finland's 8-of-27 from the same distance. Classic case of "live by the three, die by the three."
Bottom line: The FIBA EuroBasket 2017 Semi-Finalist will be back at the global stage for the first time since their 2012 Olympics bronze medal outing, and back at the World Cup for the first time since 2010. Final standings will show that Finland were two games below the line, but Susijengi know that they were agonizingly close to booking flights to China.
They said: "I would like to congratulate Russia for qualifying for the World Cup. Russia is a very talented team and a very good team. We knew it was going to be a tough game. I think we came in with good energy and for a majority of the game we gave it all we have. In the end, it was just Russia made some tough shots. It's tough when you play a good team like that who can find solutions even when you pressure them and put them in a difficult situation." - Finland forward Shawn Huff
"Congratulations to Russia. It was a tremendous performance. They played wonderful basketball, they showed courage and character. They were down but they came back to win the game. They had to make a lot of great plays. And of course that's how you earn a victory. I thought my team played the whole Qualifiers extremely well. We're a country with not very many basketball players." - Finland coach Henrik Dettmann
"Congratulations to everyone for the victory and qualifying for the World Cup. We are glad that we accomplished our goal. Of course it was extremely tough to play this game. It was a lot like the previous game in Finland when we were also down but kept believing in our system and our coach and managed to make the shots we were not making previously." - Russia forward Semen Antonov
"Congratulations first to all of my players, all that came for this window and all who came in previous windows. It was an unbelievable win. Once again we created difficulties for ourselves. We demonstrated who we are. We always do like that. First we create difficulties and then we overcome them with heroic play. Thanks to all players. Thanks to our supporters who supported us over these 15 months. I would also like to give credit to the Finnish team. They were unbelievable once again. Almost everyone underestimates them but, unlike us, they played at the last World Cup. In this campaign, they played three straight elimination games. They were down in Bosnia, they beat France in unbelievable style and they came up to this game here in Russia and made us give our best, show our best character and qualities to get the win." - Russia coach Sergey Bazarevich