Macedonia basketball didn't exactly start EuroBasket 2011 on the right foot. In just its third EuroBasket appearance since independence, Macedonia fell to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a team that doesn't exactly strike fear into opponents. Hopes of advancing to the knockout round for the first time ever looked bleak, even though Macedonia had been blessed with a shallow group.
Since then, Macedonia has become magical, going unbeaten in the five games following the loss. That includes Thursday win to open the second group stage for Macedonia, a narrow 65-63 victory over Georgia. Nationalized American Bo McCalebb, who played college ball at the University of New Orleans, gave Macedonia the victory with a last-second lay-up after driving right through the Georgian defense. The win sent Macedonia to the knockout round, though there are two games left in the second group stage, with all-important seeding on the line.
Russia won quite a bit more comfortably, taking out overmatched Finland 79-60. Like Macedonia, Russia now has a spot in the knockouts. Andrei Kirilenko led Russia with 14 points.
Greece were also winners on Thursday, beating Slovenia 69-60. Nikos Zisis led the Greeks with 19 points. Greece has not yet claimed a spot in the knockouts, having lost to Macedonia in the first group stage and needing one more win to officially get there. Greece faces Russia in a battle of the titans on Saturday and Georgia on Monday.
Slovenia will be playing desperate against Macedonia on Sunday, as one of Georgia and Finland will get on the board as the teams battle each other that same day. The loser of that game will have been ruled out of the knockouts; should Finland beat Georgia and Slovenia lose to Macedonia, Finland would have the opportunity to vault themselves into a wholly unlikely knockouts berth.