Czechs, Turkey enjoy thrilling victories on opening day in Podgorica
PODGORICA (Montenegro) - The opening day of action at the FIBA U20 European Championship 2022 didn’t disappoint as it featured seven hard-fought games.
In Group A, France pushed the pace and pressed from the very beginning as they jumped out to a 23-8 lead over Croatia. To make matters worse for Croatia, which have brought only two of their 2018 U16 champions to Podgorica, France managed to make eight three-pointers during the first half.
The Croatians bounced back behind a nearly perfect game from Leo Memalo who scored 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field. Yet France never fully lost its grip on the game and won with a somewhat comfortable 10-point margin, 76-65 , led by the flashy Matthew Strazel who had 22 points.
In the other Group A clash Slovenia started the championship off with a quick 18-point lead that slowly, but surely crumbled. Belgium instantly responded with a 9-2 run and ultimately made a 30-point turnaround en route to a 76-64 victory. Big man Xander Pintelon played a huge part in establishing the lead by making two straight three-pointers early in the fourth and finishing the game with 25 points.
The path to victory wasn’t simple for Group B squads either, with Israel and Italy recording wins against Greece and Portugal, respectively.
Greece and Israel seemingly left it all out on the floor in a defensive-minded game. Israel got the edge first with an 18-4 start to the game, yet had to rely on their leader Noam Shimon Dovrat to hold on to the lead in a 69-65 win. Dovrat scored six of his 19 points late in the game just after Greece had made it a two-point game.
Italy meanwhile ended up needing all of their trips to the charity line as Portugal proved to be a feisty opponent for the Azzurri.
The Portuguese could have moved as close as one point in the last 30 seconds, with Italy holding on to a 71-67 win. Abramo Pene went for an efficient 21 points in 21 minutes of playing time, while the whole Italian squad made 25 of its 32 free throw attempts.
In Group C, Czech Republic and Ukraine attacked the basket at will and combined for 96 points in the paint. It was Ukraine that held the lead late in the fourth, yet Maksym Shulga, who otherwise was good for 28 points and 10 rebounds, only converted 1 out of 4 crucial free throws.
The Czechs forced overtime with Ondrej Hanzlik setting the tone with five quick points as his team secured a 98-86 win.
In the late night Group C clash Lithuania got the first notable lead (17-9), yet it was Spain who controlled proceedings for most of the game.
Augustas Marciulionis got Lithuania within a point late in the third quarter as the Baltic team scored 22 points off turnovers. However, Spain proved to be more consistent on offense and got 41 points from the bench in a 75-65 victory.
Group D action turned into Turkey getting a narrow win over Germany, while hosts Montenegro suffered at the hands of Poland.
Turkey and Germany didn't seem to mind an athletic and at times ruthless duel full of flights to the rim and never-ending battles on the glass. The Turkish side seemed to have an advantage with Sarper David Mutaf going for 27 points, while the explosive Adem Bona gathered 19 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Yet the Germans almost managed to escape with a somewhat surprising win by scoring seven straight from the free-throw line and getting a 65-64 lead in the last minute. However, it was Yigit Coban who grabbed the 16th offensive rebound for Turkey and drilled two free-throws, allowing his team to escape with a 66-65 win.
In the other game in the group Poland blew out Montenegro after shooting 15-of-20 from the floor in the first quarter. With a 37-18 lead in hand, the Poles saw five of their players score at least 9 points, the lead soon enough developing into a 30-point advantage. Montenegro managed to pull closer, yet Poland still won 83-62, aided by 13-for-26 shooting from 3-point range.