SAITAMA (FIBA World Championship) – The free-throw shooting gods saved Lithuania on Saturday as Italy missed six in the final eight seconds to crash out of the FIBA World Championship.
The Italians, who reached the last 16 despite needing a wild card to play in the tournament, had a chance to reach the quarter-finals but self-destructed.
With 2.8 seconds remaining and the Baltic giants leading 71-68, Lithuania fouled Marco Belinelli so Italy could not attempt a potential game-tying three-pointer.
Belinelli missed both shots from the stripe, but team-mate Gianluca Basile grabbed the long rebound and attempted to launch an attempt from the arc before time expired and as he did, he was fouled by Arvydas Macijauskas, one of the most experienced players in the Lithuania team.
Macijauskas tried to put a hand in Basile’s face but made contact with him just 0.6 seconds from the end, giving the 20-year-old a chance to tie the game if he could make three shots from the charity stripe.
Basile, a member of Italy’s silver-medal winning side at the Olympics, was short on the first, however, and then missed the next two to preserve the three-point victory for Lithuania.
A stunned Italy coach Carlo Recalcati said immediately after: “We’ve got ourselves to blame.
“Today we have seen all our inexperience and hence, since our trip to Japan was supposed to give us experience, I hope my players will learn something from it.
“It proves that I wasn’t wrong when I said that this is an inexperienced side.
“We have thrown away so much. We have given away our crucial rebounds to our rivals.
“We have shot our free throws poorly and we have not taken advantage of the turnovers (by Lithuania).”
Indeed, after Belinelli could only make one of two from the line with eight seconds to play, Italy decided to foul Linas Kleiza after coming out of a timeout.
Kleiza missed the first, and the second but Italy failed to box out and Darius Songaila grabbed the rebound.
With Songaila having made all eight of his free throws to that point of the game, the Azzurri’s chances looked bleak.
But Songaila missed the first, and the second.
Yet again, Italy were unable to box out and this time it was very costly as Darius Lavrinovic reached in to tap the ball up and in for the 71-68 lead.
That set the stage for Belinelli and Basile and Italy suffered their painful exit.
Belinelli had some fine moments in this tournament, and he hit a big three with 2:05 to go against Lithuania to close the gap to 68-65.
But it was not to be for him or a young Italy, who two years ago won the silver medal.
Italy ended up shooting six of 19 (32%) from the line, far below their 48% (10 of 21) shooting from three-point range.
Before Saturday, Belinelli had made 14 of 16 (88%) from the line and the experienced Basile had hit eight of nine (89%).
“I don’t think Belinelli has had his best game of the tournament today,” Recalcati said.
Mason Rocca and Fabio Di Bella each had 15 points for the Italians, while Macijauskas scored 15 to lead Lithuania.
Italy had led by as many as five points in the first half but Lithuania went to the locker room with a 36-35 advantage with Lavrinovic leading them in a balanced scoring attack with seven points.
Mason Rocca, who played basketball at Princeton University and spent last season with Carpisa Napoli, had 13 after a series of excellent moves in the paint.
Lithuania finished 19 of 30 (63%) from the free throw line. They out-rebounded the Italians 40-35.
The Italians guarded them closely behind the arc, limiting them to four of 12 (33%) shooting. They were 24 of 42 (48%) inside the arc.
Lithuania looked as if they had taken command six minutes into the fourth quarter after reeling off six straight points for a 66-56 lead.
Macijauskas, a Lavrinovic three-point play and a Robertas Javtokas free throw accounted for the spurt.
But Marco Mordente made a four-point play after being fouled by Giedrus Gustas while attempting a shot from the arc, and Di Bella’s jump shot brought Italy back.
Ultimately, their poor free throw shooting and rebounding in difficult situations prevented them from advancing in the tournament.
Zukauskas wore a smile in the press conference after when asked about the missed free throws, and Macijauskas' foul on Basile.
"We tried to pay attention to their shooters and then they got points through their big guys," he said.
"And then they started hitting from the outside. We got lucky they missed some free throws.
"We should have won this game earlier, but I guess we wanted to make it better for the fans."
“I think Lithuania will have a very difficult quarter-final provided Spain beat Serbia & Montenegro," Recalcati said.
By Jeff Taylor