Croatia looked to be battling for second place in Group C throughout their win over Ukraine but an odd choice from Bojan Bogdanovic at the end of the game meant they seemed to willingly seek third place instead. Emmet Ryan reports from Milan.
Score differential isn’t something that our American readers will be all too familiar with but it’s the source of plenty of nervy moments in European basketball. There were lots of permutations affecting where Croatia, Ukraine, and Italy would finish if Croatia won and by how much. Things would be a lot simpler if Ukraine, the quickly emerging Cinderella story of the tournament, just plain won.
This is EuroBasket, it’s where simplicity laughs at you then steps aside to welcome chaos to the party. In the first quarter we had switches in the final standings of 2nd to 4th, from Ukraine-Croatia-Italy, to Ukraine-Italy-Croatia, to Croatia-Ukraine-Italy, back to Ukraine-Croatia-Italy. It’s more than permuatations, whichever team ended up in the feared fourth spot would get Serbia in the knockout stages. The run away from Serbia stakes
Ukraine’s 8 first half threes played a big part in keeping everything in their favour for getting second place but Italy, who wouldn’t take the floor until 9pm local were rooting for them to do more than keep it close. They needed a win for Ukraine in order to avoid Serbia. All this, of course, assumed a Serbia win over Poland but those are the gambles of fate you take.
Those threes kept falling for Ukraine as they continued to trail Croatia but rarely by more than a single score. A four point play from Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk brought it to the minimum in the third. Croatia needed to win by 8 to get their preferred slot of second but, entering the fourth, they were in serious danger of dropping to fourth and getting arch-rivals Serbia as it was all square at 67-67.
BallinEurope is ramping up its YouTube game this season. Subscribe to our channel now for player exclusives, analysis videos, and much more.
Croatia would eventually get the W but things got very strange in the closing moments. Bojan Bogdanovic drew a foul while making a bucket to put Croatia up by 7. A made free throw and Croatia would nab second place plus the shot at probably Poland or Israel, depending on how results went in that group, in the last 16. Instead he opted to intentionally miss it and Ukraine effectively ran out the clock before getting a meaningless final score at the end with second place secured.
The rationale behind Bogdanovic’s miss was that third offers a better route to the semi finals, on paper. Slovenia will likely await whoever went the second placed route from this group, Ukraine as it turned out, if that team made it to the final eight. Bogdanovic’s miss means a slightly more manageable opponent at that stage but also the higher risk second round game of Finland. We’ll find out on Sunday if that proves to be the wise choice. It was a decision with shades of 2014, where Australia lost their last group game in a bid to avoid Team USA further down the line in tournament only to fall to Turkey in their first elimination game.