Croatia keeps Olympic hopes alive despite loss, but fails to shut door on Doncic, Slovenia

Croatia is advancing in its bid to earn one of the final spots in the Paris Olympics’ basketball field, but not with the kind of momentum it had hoped.

New Zealand beat Croatia 90-86 on Wednesday in the Olympic qualifying tournament in Piraeus, Greece. Corey Webster had 21 points and Shea Ili added 18, including a go-ahead layup in the final minute to help New Zealand rally for the win.

“I think it’s just a gutsy win from our team,” New Zealand captain Reuben Te Rangi said. “We’re happy about it, but we’re going to move on to the next one tomorrow.”

Ivica Zubac had 29 points and 16 rebounds, Dario Saric added 19 points and eight rebounds and Mario Hezonja had 16 points for Croatia, which was able to secure a place in the semifinals on Saturday with the four-point differential. The loss, however, kept alive the most dangerous player at the Greece qualifier.

NBA star Luka Doncic and Slovenia can now make it out of Greece’s Group A and into the semifinals if they beat New Zealand by 21 points when the teams meet Thursday. If not, New Zealand will advance.

Croatia won its tournament opener 108-92 over Slovenia on Tuesday.

“It was a tough spot playing after an emotional win over Slovenia,” Saric said of the loss Wednesday. “We were hoping we’d be on a level and push the game in our direction. But today wasn’t the case.”

The tournament in Greece is one of four that opened Tuesday to settle the final four spots in the men’s basketball field for the Paris Olympics. Other tournaments are ongoing in Latvia, Puerto Rico and Spain.

Group play at all four sites continues through Thursday, with semifinal games Saturday and the title games Sunday.

Croatia looked to be in control over New Zealand after Saric hit a pair of free throws to make it 86-79. But New Zealand scored eight straight points to tie the game at 86 on a layup by Ili with 1:21 left.

Saric was short on a 3-pointer on Croatia’s next possession. New Zealand pushed the ball up the court and got it to Webster, who missed back-to-back 3-point attempts. The second miss led to a scramble for the rebound between Zubac and Yannick Wetzell.

The ball was originally awarded to Croatia, but New Zealand challenged and the call was overturned.

Ili made the most of the second chance, driving past Zubac for a reverse layup on the ensuing possession to put New Zealand in front with 37 seconds left.

Hezonja misfired on a 3 on Croatia’s next trip up the floor, forcing a foul situation. Izayah Le’afa made both free throws for New Zealand, which closed the game on a 13-2 run.

In Riga, Latvia, Montenegro survived a sluggish start to keep its semifinal hopes alive with a 70-66 win over Cameroon.

Marko Simonovic had 18 points, six rebounds and went 9 of 9 from the free-throw line to lead five Montenegro players in double figures. Nikola Vucevic finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds.

Cameroon needs to upset Brazil when the teams meet Thursday to advance to the semifinals out of Group B. Otherwise, the second spot would go to Montenegro.

Cameroon led 32-29 at the half. But Montenegro opened the third quarter with a 15-2 run to take a 44-34 lead and never trailed again. Montenegro connected on 7 of 9 free throws in the final period and 20 for 24 for the game.

Fabien Quentin Philibert Ateba and Jordan Bayehe each had 14 points apiece to lead Cameroon.


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