Two-time reigning continental champion U18 Real Madrid booked its ticket to the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Finals after defeating U18 Zalgiris Kaunas 60-61 in a thrilling ANGT Ljubljana first-place game.
Real survives thriller with Zalgiris to reach ANGT Finals
Real wasted a 14-point first-quarter lead and could never shake off Zalgiris, which made just 1 of 3 free throws with 1.7 seconds left, missing a chance to win or at least send the game to overtime. Eli Ndiaye collected 14 points and 11 rebounds and Urban Klavzar and Sediq Garuba both scored 11 points as Real finished first in its ANGT qualifying tournament for the ninth straight season. The victory was also Real’s 17th straight in qualifying games dating back to a loss at the ANGT Munich in 2017-18. Real will next play at the ANGT Finals at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in May in Belgrade, where it joins U18 ASVEL Villeurbanne, U18 Stellazzurra Rome and U18 PFYM INSEP Paris, the teams which took first place at the ANGT Belgrade, ANGT Patras and ANGT Varese, respectively. Real will be shooting for its fourth ANGT title following 2015, 2019 and 2021. Zalgiris failed to knock off Real and has not finished first at an ANGT qualifier since the 2018-19 ANGT Kaunas. Paulius Murauskas drained 6 three-pointers in scoring 22 points with 11 rebounds and Motiejus Krivas had 18 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 blocks in a losing effort.
Krivas hit a jumper on the game’s first possession and Klavzar matched him at the other end. Zalgiris committed 2 turnovers before Kajus Kublickas’s free throws made it 4-6. Kaya Shona Mutambirwa scored 4 points as Real surged ahead 4-13 thanks to forcing 5 more turnovers. Ndiaye joined the scoring with 6 straight points and Klavzar’s three-pointer pushed the advantage to 10-24. Rokas Civilis answered with a triple but Zalgiris was still down 13-25 after 10 minutes.
Real failed to score on its first five possessions of the second quarter and Murauskas drained 3 three-pointers and the score was 24-25. Garuba scored inside to finally give Real its first points of the quarter after nearly 4 minutes, but Murauskas scored a fastbreak layup and Joshua Bonga’s three-pointer had Zalgirs up 31-29. The lead switched hands three times and Henri Veesaar’s basket gave Real a 33-34 edge at halftime.
Bonga hit a jumper to start the second half and Murauskas drained another triple as Zalgiris went up 38-34. Ismaila Diagne’s free throw finally got Real on the board after more than 2 minutes only to see Civilis also hit from deep and the lead was 41-35. Ndiaye scored the next 3 points but Kublickas drained a triple to put Zalgiris up 44-38. Garuba stepped up with a triple to pull within 44-42 but Murauskas was there again and answered from deep. Garuba punched back with another three-pointer and the game was tied, 47-47, after 30 minutes.
Both teams struggled to execute on offense in the final frame with Krivas opening the quarter and Ndiaye scoring Real’s first points after more than 2 minutes. Krivas converted a three-point play for a 52-49 lead, but Real continued to fight and reclaimed the lead, 52-53, on Nikolas Cebrian’s layup with under 6 minutes to play. Zalgiris came up empty on its next three possessions and Jan Vide’s three-point play increased the lead to 52-56. Zalgiris fought on defense and Krivas scored 4 points to tie the game again 56-56. Ndiaye hit a tough fade-away jumper with 56 seconds left and then Vide stole the ball from Bonga and threw down a dunk for a 56-60 lead with 38 seconds remaining. Zalgiris was not done yet with Murauskas knocking down his sixth three-pointer to pull within 59-60. The drama would not stop with Garuba missing 2 free throws only for Vide to steal the ball from Murauskas and then draw an unsportsmanlike foul on Bonga with 9.2 seconds to play. Vide split his free throws and then Ndiaye missed twice from the foul line, giving Zalgiris a lifeline. Krivas was fouled shooting a three-pointer with 1.7 seconds left but only made the middle free throw and Real was left celebrating.