TBILISI (Georgia) – Toko Shengelia, Giorgi Shermadini and Thad McFadden etched their names into the annals of Georgian basketball history as they carried the country to the FIBA Basketball World Cup for the first time.
The trio combined for 60 points as Georgia lost 80-77 at home to Iceland but it was enough to lock up third place in Group L of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 European Qualifers – and that first appearance on the global stage.
“It was probably the most emotional game I have ever played with the national team. Words cannot describe how I feel right now,” said Shengelia, who collected 20 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. “We are extremely proud to be in the situation and make our people happy.”
Georgian coach Ilias Zouros praised Shengelia’s performance in the window, which featured him scoring 25 points in a road victory over the Netherlands on Thursday and then playing for his club Virtus Segafredo Bologna on Friday before coming back for the deciding game.
“IT WAS PROBABLY THE MOST EMPTIONAL GAME I’VE EVER PLAYED WITH THE NATIONAL TEAM.” – Shengelia
“This is something that I never saw in my life. He’s the biggest patriot in the world. He’s giving his heart for everybody,” said the coach.
McFadden, who scored 17 points with four three-pointers added: “This is the first time in my life that I am happy about a loss. But it feels amazing for everything, to be part of this. I’m so happy. You can’t imagine. I may mess around and cry because I am so happy. This means so much for everybody.”
Zouros has been coaching since 1986, but this moment tops everything else the Greek playcaller has done.
“This is happiest day in my basketball career. I cannot express my feelings. I am very proud of my players, of the team, everybody. We made history today. We qualified for the World Cup, we deserved to qualify,” said Zouros, who has been in charge of the Georgian team since 2016. “It was the first time and I hope in the future to have many more opportunities to go to the World Cup again.”
Georgia have long become a staple on the European continent, making the last five FIBA EuroBaskets and even co-hosted the tournament in 2022. But the journey to FIBA’s flagship event was finally complete after an absolute thriller in the Georgian capital.
Thanks to an 88-85 victory over Iceland back in the November 2022 window, Georgia could afford a loss by three points and still go through due to their superior overall goal differential in the group.
Iceland simply had no answer for Shermadini early on as the Georgian big man scored 11 points in the first 7 minutes for a 19-12 lead. But the game was even 19-19 after 10 minutes.
“I HOPE THIS QUALIFICATION WILL GIVE A BOOST TO THE COUNTRY.”
Elvar Fridriksson had picked up five points in the opening frame and added nine more as the Nordic nation was down just 29-28. Iceland surged ahead 41-37 with a 9-2 spurt to reach the magical four-point lead – which the guests needed to advance. And the Iceland lead was 43-42 at intermission.
The score teetered between two points for Georgia and three for Iceland throughout the third quarter which ended with Iceland ahead 62-60.
Iceland reeled off five points in 32 seconds to reach the big number four again – 70-66 – with 5 minutes to play. The cushion was still four – 75-71 – with under two minutes remaining. Shengelia’s two free throws were followed by a McFadden three-pointer to put Georgia up 76-75 with 45 seconds to play.
After Hlinason answered with a three-point play, George Tsintsadze made just one free throw with 12 seconds and Jon Axel Gudmundsson made it 80-77 with 10.8 seconds to play. Shengelia had a chance to complicate matters for Iceland but missed both free throws only to be saved when Fridriksson’s three-pointer went off target, allowing Georgia to book their tickets to Asia.
Shermadini had a team-high 23 points on a perfect 9-of-9 shooting with 6 rebounds.
“Now we have to enjoy the morment after this game with a lot of emotions,” Zouros said. “I hope this qualification will give a boost to the country. We need more and more basketball courts. We need more kids to love the game and make proud the people in Georgia.”