HAMAMATSU (FIBA World Championship) – Ender Arslan’s two free throws with 17 seconds left lifted Turkey to a 76-74 triumph over Lithuania in a Group C thriller at the FIBA World Championship.
Without Mehmet Okur and Hedo Turkoglu, the country’s famous players who have been given the summer off to recover from injuries, Bogdan Tanjevic’s Turkish mixture of youth and experience won the day in Hamamatsu.
Ersan Ilyasova, the most valuable player of the U20 European Championships this summer in Izmir, Turkey, impressed with 11 points on four of seven shooting, including two of three from the arc.
Veteran Ibrahim Kutluay scored 16 points and made three of nine from long range for the Turks.
Arvydas Macijauskas, fresh off a nightmare rookie season in the NBA with the New Orleans Hornets, rediscovered his golden shooting touch and looked set to lead his team to a narrow victory with a game-high 24 points.
But Macijauskas, who is returning to Europe next season to play for Olympiacos in Greece, lost possession at midcourt when his team had a chance to hold for the last shot with the game tied.
Macijauskas got the ball back but fouled Arslan, and the Efes Pilsen guard made both shots for the two-point lead.
Lithuania still had plenty of time to pull level or take the lead, but they struggled to make use of their last possession in the remaining 17 seconds and instead of Macijauskas getting his hands on the ball, the task fell to Giedrus Gustas who failed to make much of an impact as the starting point guard.
Gustas’ shot from the left corner hit iron but bounced out and as the teams battled for the rebound, the buzzer sounded to signal the end of the game.
Turkey’s defense deserved most of the credit in that last sequence.
“We played very good and really fought well,” Arslan said. “We all fought hard on the court. The first game is very important in these kinds of tournaments.”
Only the top four sides in Group C will advance to the eight-finals. Brazil lost to Australia and Greece beat Qatar in the day’s other games in the pool.
Arslan was a major factor in the game, hitting a three-pointer right before half-time to give Turkey the momentum and a 44-40 lead heading to the changing rooms.
He finished with nine points.
“I am really happy but we played good as a team,” he said.
Serkan Erdogan, the Tau Ceramica star who has played this summer despite concerns about a knee injury, called the triumph one of the most important in Turkey’s history.
“This is a long tournament, and it’s just a win and we have to concentrate on coming games,” he added.
“If my team keeps concentrating on defense, though, man, we’re dangerous.”
When asked about Turkey’s chemistry on the court, he said: “Sometimes the biggest stars can hurt the team. Right now, we don’t have big stars but we have big soldiers and I think we are more dangerous right now.”
Saturday night in Hamamatsu was a horror show from the free throw line for both teams.
Turkey finished 16 of 27 (59%) while Lithuania were an uncharacteristic 20 of 32 (63%).
Lithuania dominated the glass in this game, hauling down 40 rebounds to just 24 for Turkey but they still failed to win.
By Jeff Taylor