SAPPORO (FIBA World Championship) - Italy left it late but finally saw off a determined Senegal to clinch their third win at the FIBA World Championship.
The Azzurri trailed by 11 points late in the third quarter but fought back and took the lead for good on Andrea Michelori's lay-up with 5:49 remaining.
Matteo Soragna, a member of the 2004 Olympic silver medal winning side, poured in 15 points while Marco Mordente added 14 in the 64-56 triumph.
Italy, who were granted a wild card to compete in Japan after failing to qualify last year in the EuroBasket, were but a shadow of the team that comfortably beat China and Slovenia in their previous contests.
They trailed 31-28 at half-time and only came out of first gear late in the third quarter.
In the opening half, the Italians were a woeful 10 of 37 from the floor while Senegal were 13 of 26. Italy finished 22 of 66 while the Senegalese were 21 of 54.
"We've played a bad first half, our shots simply weren't going in," said Soragna.
"Senegal players are great athletes and they play with a lot of intensity but we were patient.
"We waited for them to make mistakes in defense, while we managed to find solutions in our offense."
Despite their poor shooting stats, Carlo Recalcati's men were given a helping hand with Senegal failing to score for six minutes in the last quarter.
Gaye Moustapha's men also turned the ball over five times in the crucial last quarter - 22 in total as opposed to Italy's 13.
"It's a real pity," said Gaye.
"Just like against Puerto Rico, we dominated stages of the game but we made mistakes and we paid a high price."
The Azzurri, who had failed to score four minutes into the third quarter, trailed 45-34 with 28 minutes played.
A Stefano Mancinelli three-pointer and five consecutive points by Michelori saw the Italians take a 52-51 lead with less than six minutes remaining and they held strong to clinch their third straight win in Sapporo.
Maleye N'Doye had a game-high 18 points in defeat.
The Italians face Team USA next while Senegal will meet China on Wednesday with both teams looking for their first triumph of the tournament.