Late surge propels Italy to victory over Croatia and onto Berlin
MILAN (Italy) - Italy are Berlin-bound after assuring their progression out of the group stage of FIBA EuroBasket 2022 with a 81-76 win over Croatia on Tuesday.
Slim margins once again for the Azzurri who started strongly but required a potent finish to prevail. Punishing a string of turnovers from their opponents, the Group C hosts constructed a 40-31 advantage in the second period following a burst of 12 unanswered points.
The Croats, with progress to the Last 16 out of Group C assured courtesy of Estonia's win over Great Britain, reset at halftime. Quickly, their counter was launched in the third period.
Bojan Bogdanovic moved through the mark of 500 points in EuroBaskets with a three-pointer that capped a 21-6 stretch in the third, pushing Croatia 57-51 clear. Amid a thunderous din at the Assago Arena in the fourth, Italy amplified their game and made sufficient noise of their own.
Simone Fontecchio provided the first 6 points in a rapid 12-3 burst that provided the hosts with an advantage they would not relinquish, with Nicolo Melli notching two rapid scores that ultimately bolted shut the door.
TCL Player of the Game: Nicolo Melli had to do battle all night in the paint against the bigger Croatian centers and his experience gave Italy a huge boost. The crafty big man finished with 19 points on 8 of 17 shooting from the floor and added 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks.
Turning Point: Melli’s double dip came either side of a vital stop when he blocked Dario Saric’s layup with 2:09 left. With Gigi Datome downing a jump shot, it translated into a 6-0 run that propelled the home team 78-71 ahead.
Stats Don’t Lie: Italy feasted by procuring 18 points from 18 Croatia turnovers which were self-inflicted damage.
Bottom Line: Italy secured their place in the Last 16 of EuroBasket with the win, eliminating both Estonia and Great Britain from contention. Croatia’s qualification for the next phase had been assured with results elsewhere on Tuesday but they can still finish second in Group C with victory over Ukraine on Thursday.
“We had the crowd behind us. Guys hit some big shots. Obviously Simone stepped up. Gigi stepped up. The veterans really stepped up. I think we played a hell of a game and stepped up. It was just an all-around great atmosphere and a big time win for us. We knew coming in, this will give us a really high chance of making it. That's the goal is to win every game.” – Italy guard Nico Mannion
“It was not so easy for us to play this kind of game because we were not yet qualified. And yesterday and today, we played two teams who were. So they played without any pressure. But you could feel that during the game, how much our players had that desire to go to Berlin.” – Italy head coach Gianmarco Pozzecco
“They started making shots, the shot they were missing in the third. And we just never responded to it when they went on a little run. They had a couple of offensive rebounds that just went in, just tipped at them. Those are the ones we need to get to make that next jump. In the third quarter, we did that. Credit to them. They really wanted it tonight.” – Croatia guard Jaleen Smith