In a thrilling finale, a buzzer-beater layup from Kostas Papanikolaou saw Greece register an 85:86 win away to Georgia, mathematically booking the Ethniki’s place to next year’s FIBA World Cup finals.
Greece booked their ticket to next year’s FIBA World Cup Finals in China after recording their eighth win from eight games in qualifying on Sunday, defeating Georgia 85:86 in Tbilisi. It was an entertaining encounter as the match result was decided in the final moments with an extraordinary Nick Calathes providing an assist to Kostas Papanikolaou, whose layup at the buzzer sealed Greece’s 85:86 win.
It looked as if Greece were going to taste their first defeat in qualifying as they trailed by six (85:79) with just 1:25 remaining. Antetokounmpo’s slam and a Papanikolaou three-pointer brought Greece back within one before the Olympiacos man proved to be the hero with his buzzer-beater layup.
Nick Calathes scored an international career-high 31 points accompanied with 5 rebounds and seven assists, his final assist giving Greece the big win at the buzzer. The hero, Papanikolaou, finished with 15 points while Kostas Sloukas came close to a triple-double, with 14 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists.
After a perfect 7:0 start in qualifying, a Greek win on Sunday away to Georgia would mathematically clinch qualification to next year’s FIBA World Cup finals in China. The Galanolefki got off to a very slow start and saw themselves fall behind by as many as 15 points in the first quarter (28:13).
It was more of the same in early parts of the second quarter with the hosts pulling away with a surprising 17-point lead (37:20), before a 7:0 Greece run brought the difference back within 10 points (37:27). Calathes led another Greece run to bring the Galanolefki within four points (42:38), however Georgia once again took control of the game and headed into halftime with a double digit lead (49:38).
The halftime break did not change much as the hosts held a comfortable lead for most of the third quarter, however with the score at 62:53, a 10:0 Greek run led by an outstanding Calathes pushed the Ethniki ahead 62:63 for the first time in the game. Greece held the slender advantage going into the final period with a one point 64:65 advantage.
It looked as if Greece were pulling away in the final period, going ahead by five points (71:76), however a 7:0 run from the battling Georgians pushed them ahead in the score at 78:76. A three point attempt from Calathes re-put the Ethniki ahead (78:79) before another run from the hosts gave them a six point lead (85:79) with just 1:25 remaining. Antetokounmpo’s slam and a Papanikolaou three pointer pulled Greece within one before the Olympiacos star came through with a buzzer-beater layup (assist from Calathes) to give Greece the thrilling 85:86 victory.
by Sarantos Kaperonis
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