Lithuania played its way into the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup semifinals by defeating Turkey 73-61.
Four players were in double figures for the winners, including a game-high 19 points for Renaldas Seibutis. Martynas Pocius and Darjus Lavrinovic combined for six three-pointers off the bench.
As a team, Lithuania went 10-of-19 from three-point range. Another important factor was the battle of NBA centers, as Jonas Valanciunas (12 points, 13 rebounds) matched the play of Turkey's Omer Asik (11 points, 10 rebounds).
Lithuania head coach Jonas Kazlauskas discussed Valanciunas' value after the team's previous win over New Zealand, telling reporters, "Jonas played really well and that's what we expected. He has gotten stronger and has more experience. Now he respects his opponents even more and knows the price of every game."
With the Toronto Raptors star holding down the low post and his teammates coming through with big games offensively, this team can keep winning. ESPN's Marc Stein provided his thoughts on the tournament to this point:
Turkey seemed ready to pull away in this contest early with a strong opening quarter by Asik, as Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com points out:
However, Eurohoops.net explained why Turkey's advantage was only five points:
Thanks to a 20-10 advantage in the second quarter, Lithuania had the lead at halftime. Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun described the back-and-forth play of the first 20 minutes:
Neither side pulled away in the third quarter, as Turkey went on a 12-0 run to regain the lead. During the run, its defense picked up and its guards were able to get the ball inside for easier baskets.
But Lithuania took back the lead with its outside shooting, as Brenton Vannisselroy of Radio Sport explained:
In the fourth quarter, Lithuania clearly looked like the better team on both ends of the floor. The squad made big shots, including three from Jonas Maciulis after a relatively quiet game until then. Lithuania took a 13-point lead with 3:17 to go and never looked back.
Things will likely get much tougher in the next match, however. Lithuania will play the winner of the United States and Slovenia, and all signs point to the Americans being there in the semifinals.
Turkey gave Team USA a tough battle the first time out, leading at halftime before losing 98-77, which bodes well for Lithuania staying in its potential semifinals clash with the tournament favorites. Of course, there is a big difference between keeping the score close and actually winning.
Still, it would be foolish to overlook Lithuania. At the very least, it'll have a great chance at a third-place finish.
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