It was a strategic gem from Ufuk Sarica as he kept Sasha Djordjevic guessing all night in what proved a fascinating tactical battle between Serbia and Turkey. In the end the Turkish coach ran out of tricks and had no answer to a big late run by Bogdan Bogdanovic. Emmet Ryan reports from an intense night in Istanbul
Finally, after the religious holiday, Istanbul had a sellout for the 12 Dev Adam. Size however was certainly going against Turkey with Serbia having the one real giant in Boban Marjanovic and plenty of beef around him. For both sides, this was going to be a feast or famine result. Win, and there’s an outside shot at winning the group and an excellent one at taking second. Lose, and it’s Spain in the last 16. The glitterbugs were out in the crowd waving hard and cheering loud. Semih got a massive roar, he was going to need to be a beast against Boban and Ognjen Kuzmic.
Ufuk Karica made his first big adjustment before a ball was tipped, opting for Sertac Sanli over Semih Erden at the 5. Sanli is more lithe than Semih and going with him was about getting a length match-up over Kuzmic. He was also almost gone to a Turkish second division side a couple of weeks ago before Besiktas, Sarica’s side, snapped him up. The gamble broke about even. Kuzmic was more of a factor offensively but Sanli’s presence forced Serbia to bring more help for him on D.
Djordjevic adjusted, going for Vladimir Stimac on the next stint and Semih Erden joined him in lieu of Sanli. Furkan Korkmaz whipped off his top. For the first time tonight we were getting the gamble Sarica knew he would be making with Korkmaz joining Cedi Osman and Kenan Sipahi on the floor to give Turkey their fastest line-up.
Defensively Serbia weren’t phased by this rush of youth and showed far more discipline than against Russia on Sunday. They were happy to let Turkey run at them while they slowly picked their spots down the other end. Stimac sat with Serbia ahead. Now it was time to turn to the Bobinator.
The space was harder to find, Korkmaz having his view blocked by Marjanovic as he sought to send a pass inside. It found the hands of Milan Macvan. Osman responded. Turkey were down but fighting at the end of the first. Serbia up, 21-13.
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After a brief run benefitting from the spacing of Marjanovic on the floor, Serbia had to pay the toll at the other end as Melih Mahmutoglu was wide open for a pair of threes early in the third. With Dogus Balbay thrown in, Turkey had found their spark again. It was Melih though, somehow the guy who struggles to get minutes here on his home floor for Fenerbahce was in takeover mode. On Saturday night he’d made six from deep but that was against Great Britain. This was Serbia. There he was daring Bogdan Bogdanovic to go at him. He was inspiring the kids around him. Kormaz had found a second wind and he wanted some of this.
Serbia got what they wanted out of the timeout. The wind was out of Turkey’s sails and they were able to force the tempo again. At the half Serbia led 36-31 but Turkey had gotten the type of fight they wanted.
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Somebody needed to put an APB out for Bogdan Bogdanovic because the guy we saw take care of business against Latvia had largely been irrelevant since Friday’s opener. After some brief sparks against Russia, he was once again looking like a passenger in this one. With their primary scoring threat offering mostly iron, it was up to Serbia’s other guys to chip in. Macvan and Stefan Jovic were helping keep some light between the sides but Serbia needed their leader to take charge badly.
Turkey’s three amigos meanwhile were impossible to miss, charging after every loose ball in sight and seeking contact wherever they went. Sarica went small to change things up. Djordjevic countered by bringing Stimac back in. The constant shifts in pace were visibly frustrating the Serbia coach. Sarica was refusing to let this game settle, he needed to keep the favourites from finding a rhythm.
Serbia went back to Boban to force Sarica into bringing a big back in. Semih, refreshed, was ready for the challenge. Turkey were keeping Serbia in sight and making the pre-tournament favourites for Group D question themselves. Sarica’s game had gotten under their skin. His side just couldn’t get the scores to match their smarts. Serbia were struggling but they were getting closer to the win. With 10 minutes to play it was Serbia, battered and weary who led 53-45.
Osman and Sipahi didn’t have an ounce of quit in them but Turkey needed something. Re-enter Mahmutoglu whose three cut the gap to four and turned the volume in the arena up from ‘are you serious?’ to ‘I can’t hear myself think.’ Melih again and now Serbia were really rattled. This was the type of game Sarica wanted and my how he had it. Osman from deep. Turkey up by 2.
Finally we got the Bogdan we’d been waiting for. Back to back threes when Serbia needed him. It had taken one mother of a wake up call but the boss was back making buckets. Then the sneaky little lay-up inside and Turkey were the ones with questions to answer.
That run by Bogdanovic was enough for the rest to step up and seal it. Serbia, once more far from stellar, had found their nerve when they needed to and their leader had picked the right time to shine.
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