Croatia, behind a memorable 18-point, 13-rebound, 5-assist game from Saric kept pace with Spain until Nuggets’ forward Juancho Hernangomez sealed things with a game-saving block at the rim with his side up three with just 15 seconds remaining.
Hernangomez’s block tied a bow on another solid outing for the 21-year-old who only shot 2-7 from the field but still racked up 23 minutes of playing time — the second-most he’s played in Spain’s four group games — despite finding himself in foul trouble late in the fourth quarter.
Spain held a 68-63 lead with 1:32 left in the fourth quarter and looked like they were about to pull away from Croatia for good until two technical fouls, one on Pau Gasol and one on head coach Sergio Scariolo, gave Croatia four straight free throws that trimmed Spain’s lead to just one.
But Spain relied on its experience and nailed their free throws down the stretch until Hernangomez’s block sealed the win.
For Spain, Ricky Rubio led the way with 13 points three rebounds and four assists, while Gasol finished with a double-double; 11 points and ten rebounds. Fernando San Emeterio scored 12 points on 3-7 shooting.
Hernangomez, who was coming off his best game of the tournament so far, an 18-point, 12-rebounds effort against Romania, didn’t see the sheer number of shots and opportunities on offense that he had in Spain’s previous matchup. But Gasol, who rested against Romania, was back in the starting lineup and Spain opted to play through their big man throughout. Gasol’s involvement limited Hernangomez’s looks on the offensive end.
Still, Hernangomez got a fair amount of good looks from three but only shot 1-4 from distance. The swingman who’s set to play on the perimeter often for the Nuggets next season also played exceptional defense on Bogdanovic and limited the Washington Wizards forward to just 6-16 shooting.
Next up for Spain is another Group C matchup against Hungary on Thursday (8:15 a.m. MST).