Sweden and Estonia joined the ranks of teams to lock up FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers berths after claiming wins in the Pre-Qualifiers on Wednesday night in front of their own fans.
There was no stopping Sweden in Group A, with the Vedran Bosnic-coached side sweeping away Armenia 93-70 in Uppsala to move to a 3-2 mark in the standings, with stellar contributions from Tobias Borg and Viktor Gaddefors.
Having lost the first game between the sides by 13 points in Yerevan, the Swedes jumped out to a 23-10 lead by the end of the opening quarter and swung the head-to-head advantage their way in the second frame, maintaining a safe distance the rest of the way.
Borg led the hosts with 16 points while Gaddefors filled the boxscore with 15 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and came up with 4 steals on the defensive end of the floor.
Armenia’s scoring machine Ryan Boatright had his highest-scoring performance of the summer with 32 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists but received little help from his teammates, with the exception of Andrew Chrabaszcz, who was the only other double-digit scorer with 17 points.
Sweden and Armenia are now locked into a three-way tie atop the standings with Bosnia and Herzegovina, who registered a 92-74 victory against the Slovak Republic. Dzanan Musa bounced back from a quiet showing against Sweden on Saturday, recording 27 points.
The Swedes are assured of a place in the Qualifiers as they hold head-to-head advantages both Armenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, who will play it out for the second ticket to the next round on the final Game Day in Armenia.
Securing a spot in the Qualifiers was less of a breeze for Estonia on the other side of the Baltic Sea in Tallinn, but the Group C leaders succeeded nonetheless after pulling away late to take a 74-65 victory over The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Having tip-toed their way to the finish line for the first three-quarters, the hosts shifted into a higher gear and used a 7-0 run to get their noses in front 63-57, achieving the much-needed breakthrough to snatch up the top spot in the standings.
Sten Sokk had 15 points and 3 assists for the winners, coached by his father Tiit, while Kristjan Kangur chipped in 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Naturalized point guard Jordan Theodore was the game’s leading scorer with 19 points and 6 assists for MKD, with Vojdan Stojanovski adding 18 points and 8 rebounds.
After losing the first clash to the Netherlands in Schwechat a couple of weeks ago, Austria returned the favor to the Dutch side in Amsterdam with a 78-71 scoreline and an identical 7-point victory margin.
With both teams already through to the Qualifiers, coach Kestutis Kemzura’s side gained an upper hand in the race for the top spot thanks to their currently superior point differential in Group B.
The coaching staff of both teams had done their math homework, which turned the last minute of the game into a strategic tug of war, with Austria ultimately getting a favorable outcome after some late-game wizardry from Thomas Schreiner, who knocked down a three-pointer and swished three free-throws in an 11-second sequence at the end of regulation.
Jakob Poltl led the winners in scoring with 16 points and 5 rebounds while game hero Schreiner finished with 15 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists to his name. Arvin Slagter had 15 points for the Dutch, who now will now need to beat Albania by nearly 50 points on Saturday to regain the top spot in the standings.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria finished their clean sweep in Group D of the Pre-Qualifiers with an 84-70 victory on the road against Belarus in Minsk. They were paced by 21-point Chavdar Kostov, who connected on 7 of 9 shots from the floor.
Aleksandar Vezenkov had 18 points and 7 rebounds for Bulgaria while Vitaly Liutych had a team-high 18 points and 5 rebounds for Belarus in a losing effort.