SPORTS

Greece one game away from the Olympics

greece-one-game-away-from-the-olympics

Greece’s men’s basketball team overcame a seven-point halftime deficit to defeat Turkey 81-63 Saturday in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria, Canada and will face the Czech Republic Sunday for a spot in the Tokyo Olympics.

Greece immediately fell behind, 9-2 and 17-6; Turkey got its maximum lead of 14 points right at the end of the first quarter (22-8) and early in the second (25-11).

“We were nervous in the first half,” Greece’s coach, Rick Pitino, said at the press conference after the game. “You go out, you have wide open shots, you don’t make (them), you get tight, it bothers you. Just play defense,” he added.

That’s what Greece did in the second quarter, limiting Turkey to 9 points, but were still tight offensively and ended the half 34-27 behind.

“At half time, I kept reiterating ‘when we get the lead, please don’t relax. We are going to get the lead early in the third quarter, don’t relax. Did I 100 percent believe it? Well, 50-50,” Pitino said.

Whatever else he told them, Greece came storming out of the break, taking the lead for the first time (37-34) through a Dinos Mitoglou 3-pointer 3 minutes into the second half. A 10-0 surge allowed Greece to take a double-digit lead (49-39), but, in the final two minutes, Turkey cut the lead to four (47-51).

In the final period, Turkey closed within a point (50-51), and then it was all Greece, led by veteran guard Nick Calathes, until the end. The maximum lead (79-60) was reached a minute from the end.

Calathes led Greece with 18 points; he also had 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Point guard Kostas Sloukas had 15 points and 9 assists, and Giannoulis Larentzakis and George Papagiannis had 14 points each, with Papagiannis also grabbing 13 rebouinds and making all of his 6 shots on his 24th birthday, duly celebrated after the game. Mitoglou had 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Furkan Korkmaz scored a game-high 20 for Turkey.

Today, Greece and the Czech Republic, which beat hosts Canada 103-101 in overtime earlier Saturday, will play (4 p.m. local time, but 2 a.m. Monday in Greece) with the winner going to the Tokyo Olympics with 11 other teams.

Eight teams have already booked places at the Olympic Tournament: hosts Japan, Argentina, Australia, France, Iran, Nigeria, Spain and the United States. Also Sunday, hosts Lithuania play Slovenia in Kaunas; hosts Serbia face Italy in Belgrade; and Brazil squares off against Germany, who knocked out hosts Croatia Saturday, in Split.