LIPIK (Croatia) - The 3x3 Challengers are back and they didn’t disappoint.
Over two days in Lipik, Croatia, new faces took over as Antwerp (BEL) won their first-ever challenger after defeating San Juan (PUR), 20-18 in the final.
The 26th ranked team in the Team ranking, Antwerp, was led by Thibaut Vervoort who scored 44 points over five games and was named MVP. He also was the leader in P-VAL (43.2) and S-VAL (31.7), while hitting 17 two-pointers.
It was a Challenger full of surprises that only 3x3 can produce.
On Day 1, it was old favorites dominating and surprising newcomers.
Liman, NY Harlem, and Novi Sad all advanced to the bracket round, with Marko Milakovic (Novi Sad) and Kidani Brutus (NY Harlem) co-leaders in points, with 21.
It was no Dusan Bulut, no problem for Novi Sad, who relied on Dejan Janjic as their other main leader, accounting for 19 points.
For Liman, it was no surprise to see Stefan Kojic (16 points) and Mihailo Vasic (12 points) carry the squad, earning the number one seed in the bracket.
But, it was a day of double-digit upsets that stole the headlines.
San Juan (12), Antwerp (10), Aomi (11), and BielefeldTSVE (14) all advanced to the bracket stage with strong team performances. They set themselves up for showdowns against the best in the world in the bracket stage.
The quarterfinals had us on the edge of our seats. It was an upset-fest as the top four seeds were all knocked out by double-digit seeded teams.
Tomoya Ochiai, aka ‘The Worm’, began the quarterfinals by knocking down a stone-cold winner in overtime to take out Liman. Antwerp kept their Cinderella story going, defeating Edmonton while Bielefeld bested NY Harlem.
But the story of the quarterfinals was San Juan, who took down powerhouse Novi Sad. Gilberto Clavell’s goggles were certainly giving him 20/20 vision, shooting 70% from the field and leading the team with 9 points, including the winning free throws and the rest is history.
In the semifinals, it was more of the same from the underdogs. Antwerp was carried by sharpshooting Thibaut Vervoort who lead his team in scoring to defeat Aomi (20-17).
Clavell was a one-man wrecking crew in the semifinals, scoring 12 of 20 points for the Puerto Ricans against Bielefeld.
The final was a slugfest between Antwerp and San Juan (who both secured a ticket to a FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters to be confirmed at a later stage), two sides that played like they had nothing to lose. Vervoort's shooting stroke was as sweet as Belgium chocolate, adding 10 points in the winning effort. San Juan stormed back in the final minutes, with Jorge Matos and Josue Erazo knocking down 2-pointers.