OLYMPIC QUALIFYING TOURNAMENT
|Cold as ice - Sarunas Jasikevicius produced the goods in the clutch to help Lithuania past Puerto Rico |
Lithuania survived in a 76-72 victory over Puerto Rico on Friday night at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament to join Russia in the Semi-Finals and move a step closer to the London Games.
Needing a win to stay alive, Russia had prevailed 80-65 over Angola in the day's first game.
Greece suffered a 80-79 heartbreak against Nigeria, however, to fall out of contention for London and F.Y.R. of Macedonia blew a 20-point lead and lost to the Dominican Republic, 86-76, to see their Olympic hopes die.
In a true thriller, Lithuania were in danger of missing out on the Summer Games for the first time since gaining independence.
Puerto Rico's Daniel Santiago made one of two free-throws for a 72-71 lead with 36 seconds left but after a Lithuania timeout, coach Kestutis Kemzura inserted Sarunas Jasikevicius and the EuroBasket 2003 MVP drove down the right side of the lane and banked in a lay-up to make it 73-72 in favour of the Baltic side.
Puerto Rico still had 31 seconds left but after a timeout, J.J. Barea threw a pass over the outstretched hands of a well-defended Santiago and it went out of bounds, turning the ball back over to Lithuania.
The Caribbean island team fouled Linas Kleiza and he sank just one of two free-throws, but Puerto Rico failed to take advantage.
Barea penetrated into the lane but instead of attempting the shot, passed to Nathan Peavy and he travelled.
Jasikevicius then made two free-throws to seal the four-point win.
Lithuania will on Saturday take on the Dominican Republic, who came from behind to beat the Bo McCalebb-led F.Y.R. of Macedonia.
McCalebb, a member of the all-tournament team at EuroBasket 2011, had 35 points but his team fell, 86-76.
AFRICA SUITS RUSSIA, BAD FOR GREECE
In the first game of the day, Sasha Kaun and Andrey Kirilenko helped the Russians get on top of Angola and David Blatt's team pulled away for an easy win.
Kaun had 17 points and Kirilenko 14 with five rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block.
Vitaly Fridzon continued to be a handful for opponents and scored a team-high 18 points.
Greece were perhaps victims of the biggest surprise of all in their one-point defeat to Nigeria and their free-throw shooting was a big reason why.
The Greeks made just 17 of 28 (61%) at the line.
With 30 seconds left, Ade Dagunduro nailed a three-pointer to put the Africans in front, 78-76, but Greece then got a three-ball from Kostas Papanikolaou to go back on top.
With three seconds to go, Dagunduro penetrated and drew a foul from Nikos Zisis.
Coming out of a timeout, the impressive guard made both free throws.
Greece inbounded the ball to Vasileios Spanoulis and he tried to launch a potential game-winning shot from 25 feet but Nigeria blocked the attempt.
The Greeks argued that Spanoulis had been fouled but their appeals fell on deaf ears as the Nigerians celebrated moving a step closer to the Olympics.
Spanoulis was outstanding in every facet of the game except his free-throw shooting.
He finished just six of 12 at the line.
Russia will face Nigeria in Saturday's Semi-Finals.
The winners of the two Semi-Finals advance to the London Games while the losers will square off in the Final for the last Olympic place.