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Serbia get back to winning ways, World Cup outlook brighter after handing Greece first loss
BELGRADE (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - Serbia looked closer to the team that reached the Final at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014 as they shrugged off their recent struggles in the European Qualifiers with a convincing 84-61 victory over Greece, who suffered their first loss of the campaign.
Stefan Jovic paced Serbia with 22 points while Miroslav Raduljica added 13 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds as the Serbs improved to 6-4 after having lost three of their previous four games.
Greece tasted defeat for the first time in the Qualifiers to drop to 9-1 despite Lefteris Bochoridis and Christos Saloustros scoring a dozen each.
Turning point: Greece cut the deficit and got within 49-46 before Stefan Jovic opened an 18-2 Serb run in the second part of the third quarter with a three-pointer and a layup for a commanding 67-48 lead. The Greeks could only get as close as 12 points the rest of the way.
Game hero: Jovic was a welcome returnee after missing Serbia's first game of the window and the point guard made a huge impact with 22 points, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 rebounds.
Stats don’t lie: Serbia ruled the boards with 41 rebounds to Greece's 26, including 15 on the offensive glass. That led to 11 second chance points, compared to 5 for the Greeks. The visitors were 6 of 22 (27 percent) from three-point range and made just 11 of 19 (58 percent) free throws.
Bottom line: Serbia can breathe a sigh of relief after their ending their struggles. Serbia will have a 6-4 record going into the final window in February 2019 when they play at Estonia and then host Israel. Georgia is fourth in the group at 5-5 and Israel are 4-6. Greece will look to rebound at home against Georgia to start the next window before then heading to Germany to likely decide first place in the group.
They said: “Very, very important game of course. No one knew that it would be easy, but in the end Greece did not come with their best roster. So we took advantage of it. We knew how to put the ball in the low post and try to find our inside game in the beginning. After that our energy was good. What I didn’t like again was the turnovers due to a wish to please the public right at the beginning. We were a really good team, one of the best, in sharing the ball, playing simple basketball. Playing basketball that is very difficult but very efficient. And that is what we are supposed to continue. So I didn’t appreciate some kind of strange passing and trying to find some solutions that we don’t have in our game. Due to our lack of time that we spend together that’s not what we needed. But nevertheless our energy was good, our defensive effort was really good. We finished the game with a good effort, with a good spirit and a good fight. Congratulations to the Greece team. Really a fair fight. Congratulations to their team because they are already qualified. We need another step to achieve that and I hope in the next couple of game we will do it.” - Serbia head coach Aleksandar Djordjevic
“We had a good game and played with a lot of energy. We had a tough situation but everything was fixed with our energy and team spirit and how the team played. I’m so happy because we are back from these losses and we are back in the winning spirit. I want to congratulate the other guys on a good game.” - Serbia’s Djordje Gagic
“It was a very difficult game for us. I would like to congratulate Serbia. We know how strong this team is. Unfortunately for us we had an unusual roster to play against them. As you saw we had 9 guards, 2 forwards and 1 center. But I also have to say congratulations to my players because we finished this window with the results we wanted - the win against Germany and we knew it would be difficult here. We look forward to the next one. I hope to have more players ready to play. But we have to congratulate every game for these young guys. They support and give everything to the team for 10 games right now. We are very happy for our qualification also.” - Greece head coach Thanasis Skourtopoulos
“First of all, congratulations to Serbia for the win. We came here to play a game that we knew that the Serbian team would be very aggressive from the beginning because they very much wanted the result. We played here in a very nice gym that was full of fans and we knew that we would have pressure from them also. We had to stay altogether and we didn’t do it from the beginning. We tried to play better in the second half. I think we had some good chances to come back but every time that we tried to do that the Serbian team made good choices and we didn’t do it. I think that all of our staff, players and coaches are very happy because until now we had already qualified and we are very happy for that. This was the first loss for our team and I have to say congratulation to all of our guys from the first to the last. All of these windows they gave everything to the team.” - Greece’s Ioannis Athinaiou