France survived a storming second half to secure their place in the semi-finals as they won their second overtime game in as many outings to outlast Italy.
It was a more subdued Gianmarco Pozzecco to start proceedings between Italy and France. There was a mild discussion with a ref and a big sigh after a botched possession but nothing like the firecracker display that got him ejected and, oddly, in the process inspired his team to victory over Serbia on Sunday.
Fuelled by some fine shooting from Evan Fournier, France comfortably got off to the better start as a sloppy Italy went into a 9 point hole early on. A Marco Spissu three out of a timeout brought some life to the Italian performance but this was a unique stage. Italy had yet to play a game in front of such a small crowd, although they didn’t exactly bring a full turnout for their defeat to Ukraine, and this was a team that had thrived on the manic energy from the stands irrespective on whether it had been in their favour or against.
Now there’s Poz. A Gigi Datome three at the second attempt and he’s stepping on the court to air slap his captain on the ass. Still, his side was only making par with France and trailed by 7 after the first.
Simone Fontecchio was the one man really getting anything done for Italy in the first half as they struggled to develop any kind of creative threat. It was mostly through his scoring but he was also, for better or worse, the best Italian at putting his teammates in position to score. Add in his big effort on defence and the Utah Jazz man was the only reason this one felt competitive in the first half.
In truth, it was a desperately sloppy first half of basketball all round with France’s impressive three point shooting percentage the exception and also the cause of the difference come the break.
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France couldn’t make Italy go away, that was the one thing that should have concerned all supporters of Les Bleus as Niccolo Melli and Fontecchio were keeping Italy in this, with even an awfully fait MVP chant for the Jazz man as he cut the gap to two possessions.
A disgustingly overthrown pass by Timothy Luwawu-Cabbort told you all you needed to know about France’s offensive issues and the game finally felt alive right after with a score from Datome getting Italy back within two.
Then came a three by Gigi and a steal and score from Nico Mannion to give Italy their first lead of the game late in the third and, finally, the Italian fans were getting loud. One more bucket from Achile Polonara and, out of nowhere but France’s failings, Italy had a 6 point lead with 10 minutes to play.BallinEurope has a book, a real life actual book called I Like it Loud, and you can buy it on Amazon now. It’s here as a book and here in Kindle form.
France were stunned but kept on sparring and with Italy and a Heurtel three crucially kept it from getting out of hand too quickly for his side to adjust. There was some desperation stuff however as Ellie Okobo entered the game for the first time and being used quite sparingly up to this stage of the tournament.
His side up by 3 with just over 5 minutes to play, Pozzecco stood pensively with his hands clasped behind his back before a quick three sign celebration as Spissu scored from deep. Then came Fontecchio, who had been quiet during the rally, to score again and push his side forward.
Now Gobert was stepping up as he combined with Fournier to close out Fontecchio and force an errant pass before the Minnesota Timberwolves big man dunked to cut the gap back to just 2 points. To hell with it, Fontecchio went from deep again and Italy were close to closing this one out…and then they didn’t.
Fontecchio had two free throws at the death to end it but he missed both, Heurtel scored at the other end and we had overtime. France took charge from the off with Rudy and Heurtel leading the way as they eventually eased to victory in the extra period. It wasn’t pretty but, for the fourth time in the last five tournaments, France were in the medal rounds.