In front of a crowd estimated at 6,800 FIBA Europe crowned a new Mens U20 European Champion on Sunday when Italy defeated Latvia 67:60. This is the Italians first every Men U20 Championship. The difference in the contest was the 23:11 third quarter that put Italy up by four heading into the final 10, after being down eight at the break.
Latvia get the early advantage getting up 7:2 three minutes into the contest. Italy hung with them for the rest of the quarter, but were down 13:9 at the buzzer. Latvia opened the second with the first five points, building an 18:9 lead a minute and a half into the frame. Stefano Tonut got Italy back on track, knocking down a jumper, then hitting a triple and following that up with a steal. Latvia countered with five unanswered behind a Janis Berzins triple and an Ojars Silins jumper to put the Latvians up 23:14. After an Italian lay-up, Latvia scored five more to complete a 10:2 run, getting up by 12, 28:16 with three minutes left in the half. Aristide Landi connected on three of four free throws and then a jumper in the last two minutes of the half, to help close the gap, but another Berzins triple pushed the lead back to 10 until Awudu Abass sliced the cords with a jumper with two seconds on the clock to close out the half with Latvia up 31:23.
Tonut opened scoring in the third frame with a three-ball that cut the margin to five, 31:26. Two minutes later Silins split a pair of free throws to give Latvia a 36:31 lead, which was followed up by seven unanswered by Italy to give them a 38:36 lead with just under six minutes to play in the third 10. Both clubs when on a two minute stretch where they couldn’t find the bottom of the net, but then Italy outscored them 8:5 over the last four minutes to take a 46:42 advantage into the last quarter.
The first minute and a half of play in the fourth quarter is 90 seconds of basketball both head coaches would love to have back as Italy went 0 for 4 from the floor and Latvia when 0 for 2 with a turnover. Abass broke the pattern at the 8:33 mark with a dunk put put he Italians up 48:42. A pair of Amedeo Della Valle singles put Italy up 50:44, but Berzins hit a deuce, then a triple, and was followed by a triple by Kaspars Vecbagars, to complete an eight point run and retake the lead at 52:50, with just over five minutes to play for the title. Italy called a timeout to break the momentum and shortly after hitting the hardwood again Della Valle knocked down a three-ball to put the Italians back in front 53:52. Another two minute stretch of missed shots took the game clock to just over three minutes when Della Valle connected on a pair of singles to put the Italian lead to three, 55:52. Silins hit a jumper to pull the Latvians to within a point, 55:54 with just under three minutes to play. Della Valle earned his MVP status with the next run, hitting two threes, a jumper and a pair of singles to push Italy to up by seven, 65:58. Each team connected on two more free throws over the last 25 seconds of the contest, but not being able to hit the cords with anything else giving Italy their first Mens U20 European Championship ever.
Della Valle was team-high with 19 points for Italy, 17 of which he picked up in the fourth quarter. Landi added 13 points and 8 rebounds, and Abass and Tonut added 10 each. Berzins had a huge game for Latvia, keeping them in the contest with key baskets and rebounds throughout the 40 minutes. He ended up with a 21R/15R double-double and was named to the All-Tournament Team along with teammate Kaspars Vecvagars.