Australia managed to contain Luka Doncic but it was his lesser-known Slovenian teammates who delivered the knockout blow to a teetering basketball World Cup campaign.
A 91-80 loss in Japan on Saturday night was fatal to the Boomers’ chances of winning a maiden gold in Manila later this month.
A costly first-round loss to Germany meant the Olympic bronze medallists entered the second phase with a 2-1 record, needing wins over both Slovenia and then Georgia on Sunday to progress to the quarter-finals.
Stopping Dallas Mavericks All-Star Doncic was the obvious key.
And when he drew his third foul, a technical violation for throwing the ball away after a whistle early in the second quarter, the door was wide open.
He sat for more than six minutes in that quarter and then was fouled again just minutes after halftime.
The 23-year-old played on, the Boomers resisting the urge to review a tight foul on Patty Mills that, if reversed, would have spelt the end of Doncic’s night.
Australia’s offence never truly clicked, but behind Josh Giddey (25 points, eight rebounds) they surged within four points at the final break.
The first score of the final quarter made it a two-point game, before a 15-2 run sealed Australia’s fate.
Coach Brian Goorjian was critical of his side resorting to “individual” offence and missing crucial rebounds.
And while they managed to keep Doncic to 20 points and force six turnovers, they couldn’t stop his teammates.
Mike Tobey (18 points, 12 rebounds) shot at 80 per cent while six players scored at least nine points as Slovenia reversed the result of the 2021 Olympic bronze medal game.
“The game plan of getting the ball out of Luka’s hand … was really effective,” Goorjian said.
“The key to tonight was all the other players.
“You’re rolling the dice, are we good enough?
“That was the gamble.”
Doncic was happy to be double-teamed, the freakish talent dishing assists in a slick first quarter they won by 10 to set the tone.
“I don’t think it was (on) occasion, it was every possession, two (Australian) guys on me every possession,” he said.
“I’m really proud how we played, everybody together.
“We shared the ball, it was amazing to watch.”
Australia will still play Georgia on Sunday but that’s where the road will end, the Boomers denied a chance to better their fourth at the World Cup in China four years ago.
“We knew it was must-win,” Giddey said.
“These slow starts against good teams … we’re trying to get out of a hole that just felt like it was getting deeper and deeper.”