France beats Italy 84-75 to reach men’s basketball semi-finals

SAITAMA, Japan (AP) – Nicolas Batum felt a pressure he had never experienced with the France team.

He won a European title and a pair of bronze medals in the Basketball World Cup. But even though France had been one of the best teams in the world for the past decade, they stumbled steadily in the Olympic quarter-finals.

When the French played that round again on Tuesday against Italy, Batum described those past losses as some sort of ghost. Another failure would have been unacceptable.

“I couldn’t lose this game,” said the team captain. “We couldn’t lose this game.

They did not do it. Now they can win it all.

Rudy Gobert scored 22 points, Evan Fournier had 21 the day he agreed to sign with the New York Knicks and France advanced to the men’s basketball semifinals at the Olympics for the first time. since 2000 beating Italy 84-75.

Thomas Heurtel broke the tie at 3 points with 2:18 remaining after Italy erased a 14-point deficit. Gobert had a few buckets late to finish it, including a spinning slam for the final basket.

Batum finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds. The French will face Luka Doncic and Olympic newcomer Slovenia on Thursday in the semi-final.

“I know it’s a game to go to the final, so for both teams it’s something new,” said France coach Vincent Collet.

Simone Fontecchio scored 23 points and Danilo Gallinari tallied 21 points and 10 rebounds for their Italians, who won one of four qualifying tournaments last month to reach their first Olympics since their silver medal in 2004.

“I think it was a great summer and of course it’s hard to lose, analyzing the game, but I think we did a really good job,” said Gallinari. “It was a great process and a great Olympics for us.”

France were knocked out in the quarterfinals of the last two Olympics and hadn’t been further since reaching the gold medal game in 2000.

But the French, EuroBasket 2013 champions, won bronze medals at the 2014 and 2019 Basketball World Cups and it may finally be the time for this group to break into the Olympic stage.

France, who beat the United States in their opener, have power on the inside with Gobert and compatriot Moustapha Fall, with plenty of oomph on the perimeter.

They used both to open the game in the third quarter. Gobert scored on a lob and dunk around a three-point game from Batum in a 9-0 run that made it 56-46.

After a few free throws from Fontecchio, Fournier and Batum scored 3 consecutive points to take the lead to 62-48 with 3:19 to stay in the period.

But Italy opened the fourth with a 12-2 flurry, securing the last 10 for Fontecchio, to tie him at 66.

“We failed but not that far,” said Italy captain Nicolo Melli. “Of course it’s best not to go down 14, but we have shown once again that we have the character to come back.”

Italy scored the last five points of the first quarter and secured the first basket of the second for a 27-20 lead. France came back with a 9-0 run that turned a six-point deficit into a 33-30 lead over Fall’s three-point game with 6:02 remaining at halftime.

The teams went back and forth from there until Fournier made the last basket of the half for a 43-42 lead.

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More AP: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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