By Josh Cohen
Sept. 2, 2017
ORLANDO — There are benefits playing against the most talented team to start a tournament. Some squads need a wakeup call right out of the gate to toughen them up and motivate them throughout the rest of the competition.
Enduring a drubbing to the mighty Spaniards in the opener clearly provoked Montenegro, which increased its defensive intensity and grit in Saturday’s 72-48 victory over Hungary in EuroBasket 2017.
With tremendous length spread across its roster, Montenegro did a splendid job contesting nearly every shot attempt. The Hungarians never got into a rhythm, especially in the first half when they were held to 25 percent shooting from the field and made just 1-of-13 from 3-point range.
Nikola Vucevic, who finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks, kept his team poised after a sluggish start offensively. Montenegro committed four turnovers in the first four minutes and five total in the first quarter. It settled down from there and played with far more precision and confidence.
Like the game against Spain, Montenegro head coach Bogdan Tanjevic chose to bring Vucevic off the bench after halftime despite him starting the game. The strategy has been successful as the Orlando Magic big man was more efficient as each game wore on.
In that third quarter, Vucevic connected on a turnaround baseline jumper and then spun into the lane and dropped in a floater. He had a big block on Hungary’s top scorer, David Vojvoda, and made an impressive full-court outlet pass for an assist to Sead Sehovic.
This was in many ways a “must-win” for Vucevic and his countrymen. Montenegro couldn’t afford to fall behind in Group C. It will meet up with Croatia, a team with several NBA players on its roster, on Monday. Vucevic’s NBA teammate, Mario Hezonja, is not participating in this tournament. He did play for his home nation in the Summer Olympics in Rio last year.