Lithuania outlasted Italy 95-85 after a session of overtime in an epic Eurobasket quarter-final in Lille.
Jonas Valanciunas led Lithuania with 26 points and 15 rebounds on 84 percent shooting for the victors, as they get ready to square off against the undefeated Serbia in the semi-finals.
Real Madrid’s Jonas Maciulis added 19 points and 10 rebounds with Mantas Kalnietis putting up 14 points and 11 assists for the winners.
Andrea Bargnani shrugged off a calf problem to lead the Azzurri with 21 points, but was scoreless in the first half.
In a pulsating match that could not be decided in regulation, veteran Kalnietis stepped up to bury a triple with 1:49 remaining in overtime to give the Baltic nation an 86-81 lead and Italy, despite responding with a bucket from Marco Belinelli, looked a beaten side and Lithuania came up the floor full of confidence, knowing that they had their rivals where they wanted them.
And it was down to Valanciunas to provide the final exclamation mark with four points without reply to ensure Lithuania’s passage to the semi-finals while Italy head to the classification games.
Italy took a while to get going as Lithuania began strongly with Renaldas Seibutis dancing through the defence to score up close, giving the Eurobasket 2013 runners-up a 20-13 lead.
But, the Italians then clawed their way back into proceedings, countering with a 7-0 burst, highlighted with a three from Andrea Cinciarini to tie the game after one at 21-21.
Italy then began the second quarter with a 6-0 run and a dunk down the lane by Bargnani handed them a 30-27 advantage but Lithuania would not be left trailing and at the half, they enjoyed a 39-34 cushion.
And the Lithuanians extended that advantage to start the third 48-40 in front before the Azzurri continued playing tug of war with the overall lead. Pulling it back into their favour with a three from Danilo Gallinari, which capped off a 11-0 run, used while Lithuania changed to a zone defence.
But after going back to man-to-man and getting some vital stops, Lithuania snatched the lead back thanks to a three from Kalnietis, which gave his side a 60-59 edge, heading to the fourth.
The match itself was free flowing and physical. Both teams looked drained going into what was thought to be the final quarter. Lithuania thought they had it in the last few minutes, but Italy forced the extra session, thanks to Gallinari.
But that was all Italy had in the tank. Conceding 16 points in the extra five minutes was the killer blow to their hopes of a spot in the Rio Olympics.
Jonas Maciulis (Lithuania):
It was a great win for us tonight. We knew how tough Italy would be and how may outstanding players they have but we came through and got a great win in the end.
Mindaugas Kuzminskas (Lithuania):
It was a great win against a really good and physical team. We’re sore right now, but it was worth it.