Quarter-Finals field arrived upon in Latvia
LIEPAJA/VENTSPILS (FIBA U18 European Championship 2018) - The FIBA U18 European Championship 2018 Round of 16 was full of thrills and history as Montenegro shocked Spain to reach the top eight for the first time - just like Great Britain - while hosts Latvia put their fans through a roller-coaster ride of emotions before winning.
Montenegro went 0-3 in the Group Phase and fought off some first-half jitters as Spain pulled ahead by 12 points before Montenegro rose to the moment and beat the three-time champions 83-78 in a battle in Liepaja. Pavle Titic tallied 18 points and Jovan Kljajic added 17 points - both players who play their club basketball in Spain, for Barcelona and Gran Canaria respectively. And Bojan Tomasevic added 14 points for Montenegro, who have already secured their best-ever U18 showing, topping their 11th place in 2014.
"This is a great success. We have worked hard for 40 days to get here. We're not afraid of anybody, and we're aiming for a medal. We learned from our mistakes in the Group Phase games, especially the ones against Lithuania and Serbia, where we had a lead till the end and started turning the ball over, making mistakes and losing the games. Today, we stayed focused and were calmer in the clutch to eventually get the win," said Kljajic, who along with Tomasevic finished second at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2017.
Spain, who got 18 points from Didac Cuevas, failed to reach the Quarter-Finals for the first time since 2010 and just the second time since 2002.
France are the next test of Montenegro. The four-time champions wasted an 18-point first-half lead and trailed by as many as 9 points before knocking off Greece 86-81 thanks in large part to Joel Ayayi, who had 31 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 2 assists and 1 block. Mathis Dossou Yovo added 19 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists and Karlton Dimanche flirted with a triple-double with 11 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds.
Before Montenegro had done their magic in Liepaja, Latvia gave away a 21-point lead and then fell behind by 7 points only to prevail 62-61 on Arturs Zagars' free throw with 29 seconds left. Turkey missed three chances right at the basket in the final 11 seconds.
Arturs Kurucs scored 16 points to go with 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals for Latvia, who led 37-16 in the second quarter. Zagars ended with 7 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block for the host team. Efe Ergi Tirpanci had 13 points for Turkey, who only allowed 32 points over the final three quarters. Latvia will next face Great Britain in the Quarter-Finals.
Great Britain, for their part, made history by knocking off Finland 77-73 with Mate Okros hitting 4-of-4 free throws in the final 12 seconds to secure the win. Okros led the way with 20 points and Kareem Queeley added 10 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists as Great Britain have already secured their best-ever U18 showing, improving on their 9th-place finish in 2013 as England. Ville Tahvanainen and Mikael Jantunen combined for 44 points in the loss.
Lithuania remained perfect in Latvia with a resounding 104-71 victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Baltic side jumped ahead by 10 points after 10 minutes and never looked back, with Gertautas Urbonavicius pacing four Lithuanians in double figures on 18 points and Rokas Jokubaitis had 7 points and 8 assists. Vojin Ilic picked up 20 points in the loss.
Next up for Lithuania is Russia, who fought off Italy in picking up a 79-66 victory. Nikita Mikhailovskii and Aleksandr Ershov both scored 17 points and combined an additional 16 rebounds and 5 assists. Federico Miaschi tallied 29 points and Mattia Palumbo chipped in 13 points as Italy just didn't have enough firepower to keep up with the Russians.
Reigning champs Serbia meanwhile advanced to the final eight comfortably with a 121-49 win over Ukraine. Filip Petrusev collected 25 points and 9 rebounds while Marko Pecarski had 23 points and 9 rebounds and Zoran Paunovic chipped in 23 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists.
Serbia will have to get through Germany in the Quarter-Finals if they want to have a chance to defend their crown. Germany played a strong team game and solidly beat Croatia73-60. Matthew Meredith was Germany's top scorer with 11 points and six players scored at least 7 points. Croatia's top scorer was Filip Vujicic with 15 points.
Here are the Quarter-Finals:
France v Montenegro
Germany v Serbia
Latvia v Great Britain
Russia v Lithuania