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Semyon Antonov: We are angry with ourselves

Russian forward explains reasons behind defeat against Switzerland

Facing Italy at home Wednesday in a must-win situation in the EuroBasket 2015 qualifying campaign, Russia is still reeling from Sunday’s shocking defeat in the opener against Switzerland in Fribourg.

In a typical rollercoaster thriller the Swiss built a 20-point lead in the third quarter, which Yevgeny Pashutin’s men erased during a furious fourth-period run. With the game tied at 68 and 2:13 to play, the hosts held their nerve and were impeccable from the free throw line in the closing moments, sensationally edging Russia 79-77.

Sunday also marked the return to the court of Nizhny Novgorod forward Semyon Antonov who was in rehab during Russia’s training camp after being diagnosed in late June with a stress fracture of the second metatarsal bone in his right foot. He spent 22 minutes on the floor, scored 12 points, including four three-pointers, and dished out four assists.

“It’s difficult to single out one specific factor [behind defeat],” Antonov told Sport Express daily newspaper in an interview published Tuesday. “I guess we started playing aggressive defense too late. In the beginning we gave our opponents a lot of space and they took advantage of that. Their leader Dusan Mladjan made a few open shots and then hit his stride, scoring several times in unbelievably difficult situations.”

According to the forward, Switzerland’s zone defense and heavy concentration of its defenders under the rim hurt Russia’s plan to feed their star big man Timofey Mozgov and his backup Dmitry Sokolov in the paint.

Antonov added that his team didn’t underestimate the Swiss and regretted the stretch when Russia couldn’t make shots from long range.

“But the moment we started hitting threes, the game was even again,” he explained.

The 25-year-old player, who won bronze medals with Russia at the 2012 Olympics and the EuroBasket in 2011, believes nothing is lost yet in the qualifying campaign.

“We are all shocked and very angry with ourselves. Now we need to win all three remaining games and I think we can pull it off despite the defeat in Fribourg,” Antonov said.

Russia will play back-to-back home games vs. Italy (Aug. 13) and Switzerland (Aug. 20) and wrap up its qualifying bid in Cagliari on Aug. 24. The group winner will qualify automatically and the runner-up will advance if it finishes among the six best second-place teams in seven groups.

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