SENDAI (FIBA World Championship) - Serbia & Montenegro had their best showing of the FIBA World Championship so far in a 104-57 destruction of Lebanon that puts them back in contention to reach the second round and keep their title defense alive a little longer.
After losing two hard fought games against Nigeria and France over the last couple of days, the defending champions - whose roster has drastically changed since they won this event in Indianapolis four years ago - took their frustration out on a tired Lebanon side.
Darko Milicic led seven players in double-figures with 18 points - all before half-time - as Serbia & Montenegro were able to extend their lead throughout.
The game got off to a good start as the two sides traded baskets in the first five minutes and a three-point shooting contest seemed to be on the cards as the teams combined to make four in a row with Vule Advalovic's long range bomb tying the game at 15-15 a piece.
But Paul Coughter's side kept trying to do some damage from behind the arc while their opponents looked to spread the ball around, create some movement and find some open shots.
That strategy paid off huge dividends for Serbia & Montenegro as they went on a 15-3 run to end the first quarter for a 30-18 lead.
Milicic had the shooting touch from inside and out, making long jumpers in the first period and then went down low in the second quarter where he overpowered his way to the basket.
Lebanon improved in the second quarter by pounding the ball inside to Joseph Vogel who got his team within 16, 47-31, on a dunk.
But Uros Tripkovic checked into the game and made a three-pointer and a shot just before the half-time buzzer to put Serbia & Montenegro up by 22 points - its biggest lead to that point - at the break.
The second half was pretty much a formality for Dragan Sakota's men who stuck to their winning formula of moving the ball around and not forcing any shots to further increase their lead to over 30 points when Ognjen Askrabic fed Avdalovic for a lay up that made it 68-37.
By the start of the fourth quarter, Serbia & Montenegro had sat their starters but subtitutes Marko Marinovic and Tripkovic continued the scoring frenzy, the former making two three-point attempts while the latter added a lay-up to cap off a 10-0 run for an 87-43 lead.
Sakota's men reached the hundred point mark when Bojan Popovic, who last night missed a pair of crucial free-throws in the closing seconds against France, converted a couple from the charity stripe.
Askrabic finished with 14, Tripkovic added 13 and Marinovic and Miroslav Raicevic had 12. Igor Rakecovic, the team's captain and leading scorer so far in the tournament had just six points. Serbia & Montenegro shot 12 of 20 from the three-point line.
Fadi El Khatib led the way for Lebanon with 12 points.
After the game, Marinovic said he hoped this was the start of better things to come for his team.
"This was a good win for us. We needed it badly after the last two games in which I thought we were really unlucky. But that's behind us now and I hope our luck has turned around for good. We will see if it has against Venezuela," he said.
Dragan Sakota took solace from seeing his team play this way.
"We finally played well for a full game and we can be encouraged by this performance. We will need to play like this in our last two games if we want to advance to the next round and be competitive there."
By Simon Wilkinson