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Buzzer beaters and long range triples: Kovac wins it from own half
TALLINN (FIBA U18 European Championship 2017, Division B) - Only five teams are unbeaten after three days of basketball in Estonia: the hosts, Israel, Croatia, Iceland and Sweden.
Estonia seemed to be in control of their fate against Belgium, leading 67-60 with 20 seconds left on the game clock. But the opponents would not go away, triples from Sam Hofman and Vrenz Bleijenbergh making it interesting. However, Kristian Kullamae sank both of his free throws with 11 seconds left to seal the deal in a 70-68 win. Fitting, since Kullamae was the man of the hour for Estonia, with 18 points and a +21 while on the court.
The hosts are now in sole possession of the first place in Group D. Belgium have fallen to 2-1, the same record that Switzerland have following their own piece of drama and late-game heroics by Eric Koludrovic against Denmark. Koludrovic sank both free throws with three seconds to play and set the final score at 54-53. Vigdon Memishi used all of his 6ft 8in (2.10m) frame on the final defensive play, blocking a potential game-winning shot by Denmark. Also in Group D, MKD got on the board with a 73-55 victory over bottom-placed Ireland.
The game of the day was undoubtedly the one between Israel and Poland. The Polish youngsters had a three-point lead and a couple of shots from the stripe with 20 seconds to go, but could not convert them. Instead, Amit Ebo took the ball and sank a three-pointer from just over the half-court line to force overtime! Ebo was 0-of-7 from beyond the arc prior to that.
In overtime, Yair Kravits made a lefty go-ahead bucket in the final minute, and Yotam Hanochi added the exclamation mark with a couple of free-throws that made it 88-85. Israel are at 3-0 in Group C, Poland have slipped into a three-way tie with Portugal and Romania in the battle for second place. Portugal had 11 different scorers in their 87-65 dismantling of Austria, but Romania went one better and put all 12 guys on the score-sheet against Azerbaijan (68-50).
Group A also saw a nail-biting finish in the battle of the previously unbeaten teams. Sweden held their breath as Great Britain's Kaiyem Cleary's let loose from downtown, but his shot rimmed out, allowing gave Sweden a 69-67 win. Great Britain drop to 2-1, the Netherlands have the same record after beating Czech Republic 67-52.
But the shot of the day goes to Luxembourg. Ben Kovac sank a shot from his own half, at the buzzer, to beat Albania 72-69. Kovac had a game to remember, not only with the shot of the tournament, but also with 35 points, 16 boards and a player efficiency rating of 35.
Finally, in stress-less Group B, Croatia and Iceland set up a huge rendezvous after the rest day. Both are still unbeaten and will face off on Tuesday, following their wins over Georgia and Belarus, respectively. Croatia held Georgia to less than 50 in a 62-49 conquest, whilst Iceland had four players in double digits to hand Belarus a 78-71 defeat. Bulgaria got their first win, the one-two punch of Ivan Alipiev and Krastan Krastanov combining for 43 points and 23 rebounds in an 84-78 win over Hungary.