Italy beats Russia in EuroBasket 2015 qualifying debut

Simone Pianigiani’s men open their qualifying campaign with a tough win in Moscow as Russia drops second straight game

Alessandro Gentile scored a game-high 20 points – including 13 in a decisive fourth-period rally – to help Italy bounce back from a double-digit deficit and snatch a come-from-behind 65-63 win against Russia in Moscow Wednesday.

Despite dominating the boards and building the biggest lead of the night in the fourth quarter, Russia suffered its second consecutive defeat in four days and further complicated its chances of earning a EuroBasket 2015 berth. Italy’s successful debut in the qualifying campaign puts it in the driving seat as “azzurri” travel back home to host Switzerland on Aug. 17. Only the group winner in a three-team pool is automatically guaranteed a place among 24 EuroBasket finalists.

For the greater part Russia controlled the game, time after time taking advantage of size and skills of its biggest star, Denver Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov, who finished the game with a double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

When Dmitry Kulagin hit a midrange jumper on Russia’s first possession in the fourth quarter to stretch his team’s lead to 10 points (53-43), it seemed that hosts were en route to their first victory after suffering a shocking defeat at the hands of underdog Switzerland on Sunday.

However, Gentile ignited Italy’s rally and scored seven consecutive points – including a three-point play – to trim Russia’s lead to three before Luigi Datome knocked down a long-range jumper to tie the game at 55 with 3:24 remaining. Gentile followed suit with another three-point basket, putting Italy ahead (58-56) with 2:20 on the clock. As he nailed a key three-pointer Gentile twisted his right ankle after landing on Dmitry Sokolov’s foot and was forced to leave the floor, but the injury proved to be minor. “Azzurri” clung to the lead and never looked back. On their last offensive possession Gentile drew a foul, sank his first free throw and missed the second, giving Russia the chance to win the game with a three-pointer in the remaining 10 seconds. Anton Ponkrashov swept the glass and raced down the court, threw a pass to Andrei Zubkov who found Yevgeny Voronov on the perimeter. Voronov tried to beat the buzzer, but his shot bounced off the rim and Pietro Aradori grabed the rebound as time expired.

“Nothing is lost yet, we need to beat Switzerland. It hurts to lose by two points, but there is nothing we can do about that now,” Voronov told R-Sport news agency after the game. “We still have two more games to play, and we’ve seen that we can fight Italy, which has a very good squad. We’re not panicking, we will fight, everyone could have seen that we made our best effort.”