With Gallinari bruised, an extraordinary last quarter of the captain launches the Azzurri to 81-71 in the match that closes the group
Mission accomplished. Italy is in the quarterfinals of the Olympics, an extraordinary result that the Azzurri obtain by bending Nigeria 80-71 in the last effort in the group. Down by 8 in the fourth period after their worst game in Tokyo, the blues have brought out pride and class, overturning the match and catching the victory that is worth the promotion. To understand if first or second in the group we will have to wait for the result of Australia-Germany, on the field at 10.20 in Italy. Sacchetti’s team can still finish first, in the event of a German win with a gap of up to 17 points, but the Boomers are favorites. Regardless of Australia-Germany, the Azzurri have done something great: they are in the quarter-finals of the Olympics from which they had been missing for 17 years.
The captain’s pride is what saved Italy. Nicolò Melli played an extraordinary last quarter, loading the team on his shoulders and pulling it out of the abyss in which it was hunted. Nigeria, in addition to exploiting the well-known blue problems under the basket, had managed to transform the strengths on which Sacchetti’s team had built its dreams in the first two games into weak points. With Gallinari visibly slowed down by a resentment in his left knee and Fontecchio working only in flashes, the Azzurri lacked a player to cling to, the man to ask for overtime to get out of trouble. It was Melli who came forward, to take a team in difficulty by the hand, to lay the bricks that allowed Italy to build the 14-0 run with which the 64-56 Nigeria at the beginning of the fourth period became 70-64 Italy with 3’20 ”to play. In addition to Melli, Polonara very well, 13 points and 5 rebounds, Mannion very well (to which Sacchetti preferred Pajola from the beginning). Nigeria had arrived in Tokyo with ambitions, but found themselves out of the Games with 3 defeats out of 3. Italy were very badly hurt by Chimezie Metu, Jordan Nwora and Jahlil Okafor, but Mike Brown’s team lacked personality in the final. react to the Italian rebirth.
Italy is splendid at the start: they attack the iron, finding baskets in the area or fouls with which to add points from the line, like the two that Mannion puts in 2’20 “from the siren for 27-12. It is an illusion, however. Nigeria opens the second quarter with a partial 10-0 and takes courage, the Azzurri instead suffer a devastating involution (4/20 from the field) and are unable to contain Mike Brown’s team, who goes wild with Metu. Nigeria ahead 36-34 with Achiuwa 2’31 ”from rest, but Ricci’s 5 points in a row allow Italy to return to the locker room ahead 40-39. The Azzurri restart with a nice 6-0 run, but Nigeria soon returns to do badly, with triple and physical, and closes the fourth ahead 63-56. Put on the ropes, Italy finds the strength to react. He clings to captain Melli, providential in helping to build the 14-0 with which Italy overturned everything, finding himself 6 ahead with 3’20 ”to play. Nigeria tries to react, but Mannion with two free throws 10 ”from the end launches the Azzurri at 78-71 and into the quarter-finals.
Italy: Melli 15, Mannion 14, Polonara 13.
Nigeria: Metu 22, Nwora 20, Okafor 14.
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July 31, 2021 (change July 31, 2021 | 08:35)
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