Wednesday, Montenegro rallied at the end of the game to defeat F.Y.R. Macedonia and steal a win. The shoe was on the other foot Thursday as Montenegro took an 8-point lead late against Latvia. Only to see Latvia erase the deficit just as quickly and turn the game into a battle to the end.
Montenegro took the lead behind Tyrese Rice's timely free throw shooting and an and-one off a layup as he used his speed to get into the lane and cause havoc against Latvia.
Latvia had the same idea though.
Janis Blums took the inbound pass with about 10 seconds left and beat his defender, who was overplaying for the steal. Blums was able to drive into the lane and draw two defenders to him. He fed the ball to a wide open Kristaps Janicenoks. He easily drained the three with six seconds left and Rice could not finish on the other end to give Latvia a stunning 73-72 win over Montenegro.
Janicenoks led Latvia with 15 points, going to the line to make 7 of his 10 free throws. Latvia shot 51.0 percent from the floor for the game.
Rice once again led Montenegro with 24 points and five assists. Despite a pretty solid advantage on the glass, Montenegro struggled offensively. They shot 37.5 percent from the floor. That was not enough to take advantage of the 12 offensive rebounds they grabbed.
Once again, and this appears to be his role with this team, Nikola Vucevic came off the bench and made little contribution. He scored only four points on 1-for-7 shooting in about 14 minutes of play. He grabbed only three rebounds.
It seems very difficult for him to get involved on the glass and on the defensive end (where he needs the most improvement) because international teams like to use five players who can stretch the floor. Vucevic has spent much of his defensive time on the perimeter, making it tough for him to show off any improvement on his interior defense.
Offensively, it seems like he is falling away from the basket or rushing through things. He has been able to overpower defenders and get the shots he wants. It is hard to judge too much from him in these games so far.
Montenegro is now 1-1 and take on Bosnia & Herzegovina tomorrow. With group favorites Lithuania and Serbia at the back end of the schedule, tomorrow might be a must-win game for Montenegro.