Lucky or not, host nation Turkey will be competing for a gold medal in the 2010 FIBA World Championship.
Down 82-81 to Serbia with 4.3 seconds to play, Turkey coach Bogdan Tanjevic’s designed a play for his best player, Hedo Turkoglu. But as the Phoenix Suns forward made his move toward the sideline he lost control of the ball. Luckily for Turkoglu and Turkey, his teammate Kerem Tunceri was in the right place at the right time, as the Efes Pilsen guard picked up the loose ball and drove in for an uncontested layup with 0.5 seconds remaining in the game.
Serbia had one last opportunity to win but Novica Velickovic’s shot near the rim was blocked by Semih Erden and Turkey’s players stormed the court to celebrate the country’s monumental 83-82 victory before a raucous crowd in Istanbul.
“I had the lay-up so I took it. In the last four seconds, you don’t see anything, you don’t hear anything. It was perhaps the most important game for us,” said Tunceri, who finished with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He also recorded five of his team’s 10 assists, and his dribble penetration was key to Turkey’s fourth-quarter surge.
“You think the last four seconds were down to tactics, it was nothing except luck. Our thoughts were simply on getting the basket. We were lucky tonight, they played better than us. It was a miracle drive. This was the toughest game for us,” said Tanjevic, whose team will take on the United States in the final.
Both the U.S. and Turkey finished the preliminary round undefeated. The Americans, led by Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, have stepped it up a notch in the knockout stage as they’ve posted double-digit wins over Angola, Russia and Lithuania. Meanwhile, Turkey was pushed to the limit by a very tough Serbian team, led by Milos Teodosic (12 points), Marko Keselj (18 points) and Nenad Krstic (15 points, seven rebounds).
“We tried hard, we fought,” Tunceri added. “I think it was a fascinating game. From the beginning of tournament we have been fighting. At crucial stages, we went behind but we bounced back.”
Turkoglu led Turkey with 16 points, but he got plenty of help from 7-foot center Omer Asik and and 6-11 forward Erden, who combined for 14 points and 10 rebounds. Asik will play for the Chicago Bulls this season, while Erden will don the Boston Celtics jersey. Both big men should present some big problems for the United States in the final.
With the weight of an entire nation on their shoulders, Turkey did not play their best in the first half and trailed for much of the second half. But Tunceri was clutch in the fourth quarter. With Turkey down 75-71 and a little over four minutes left to play, he scored five consecutive points to edge them in front and make a game of it.
Serbia took a 42-35 into halftime, thanks to Keselj’s outside shooting and Krstic’s inside scoring. But the momentum switched to Turkey’s side in the second half, outscoring Serbia 25-21 in the third and 23-19 in the fourth.
“It was a very tough game tonight,” said Serbia coach Dusan Ivkovic. “We won the first half by seven points but we had less control in the second half and unfortunately, we lost our concentration because of the pressure in the last couple of minutes. Maybe luck turned against us with Tunceri’s basket in the last seconds.
“I think the Serbian team was better tonight. We deserved the win. We have to unite and prepare a small final for third place. I wish the best for Turkish team.”
All post-game comments were courtesy of FIBA.com