| In the end, Entente Orleanaise did it the hard way, with a free-throw battle to the finish and a hold-your-breath game-tying shot attempt in the air on the buzzer before a 75-72 decision over visiting Partizan Belgrade meant the first-ever Euroleague victory for the club and its fans. Orleans was already eliminated from Top 16 contention, but its 1-7 record in Group B looks a lot better now that it has shaken off its tag as the only winless Euroleague team. Partizan, meanwhile, fell to 4-4 and will come back after the holiday break tied for third place with Lietuvos Rytas and both teams looking over their shoulders at 3-5 Efes Pilsen in a race between them for two Top 16 berths. Orleans used a 16-3 third-quarter run to seemingly take control of the game, but Partizan came all the way back and led again before a go-ahead layup by Cedrick Banks and free throws decided it down the stretch. Banks paced the winners with 19 points, including 4 of 6 three-point shooting and 7 assists. Aldo Curti and Adrien Moerman added 11 points each for the winners. Partizan, which lost its three-game win streak, was led again by Aleks Maric, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds. He was seconded by Bo McCalebb, who scored 13 and had 4 assists. The tale of the tape showed Orleans slightly better across the board in shooting percentages, rebounds, steals, assists and turnovers, all adding up to a narrow win for a lot of happy fans in Orleans.
No surprise, Partizan went inside to Maric to start the game and got 5 quick points from him while Curti and Ryvon Covile attacked the rim for Orleans. Back-to-back triples by Banks gave the hosts an 8-10 lead, but it was all Maric for Partizan until Ducan Kecman shot the guests ahead from downtown. Layups by McCalebb and Maric stretched the difference to 10-15 before Curti responded with a three-point basket-plus-free throw for Orleans. Moerman stepped up to the arc next to put the hosts up 16-15 before McCalebb took the lead back for Partizan and Aleksandar Rasic added free throws to it. Now, the guests looked outside to where Branislav Djekic and Petar Bozic hit perfect shots, one after the other from deep, boosting the difference to 20-27 after 10 minutes.
Orleans concentrated its defense some more on Maric, allowing him only a free throw and a basket through the first 5 minutes of the second quarter. The problem for Partizan was that no one else scored. Orleans saw its opening and took it, with Justin Doellman, Austin Nichols, Banks and Curti chipping at the difference until Anthony Dobbins, alone in the corner, completed a 12-5 run with a triple that tied it up, 32-32. Orleans, and its defense, were not done, either. With steal after steal of soft passes by Partizan, Orleans allowed only free throws from Maric before Banks drilled a go-ahead triple. Moerman converted a steal and 2 free throws to finish the half with the hosts in charge, 39-34.
Partizan came out after the break intent on re-taking the lead as drives by McCalebb and Bozic forged a quick 39-39 tie. Orleans wasn't ready to give up the lead, though. Free throws by Banks and a basket by Moerman saw to that. Although more free throws by McCalebb trimmed the difference to 43-41, Orleans simply had more contributors. Now, Dobbins and Curti added a jumper and a layup, respectively, to boost the hosts ahead 47-41. A single free throw by Lawrence Roberts of Partizan was met with a barrage by Orleans. Laurent Sciarra buried one triple, Dobbins went to the rack for a layup and Banks struck again from the arc to make it 55-42, ending a 16-3 run. After a quiet couple of minutes, Partizan's reaction came: free throws by Rasic, his assist to Strahinja Milosevic for a dunk and Petar Bozic dialling up from long distance to lower the difference to single digits, 57-49, at the end of three quarters.
Partizan's comeback continued strong into the fourth quarter, which Milosevic started with a three-point basket-plus-free throw. Next, Roberts stepped outside to pump in a big triple which Milosevic followed with a game-tying inside shot at 57-57. Next, waiting all alone on the arc, was Roberts again, and he hit a clean go-ahead three-pointer at 57-60. The vetaran Sciarra stopped Partizan's 0-11 run with free throws for Orleans, but soon Maric was putting back a miss to keep the visitors ahead 59-62. After a timeout, trying to attack Partizan's zone, Sciarra took a long kick-out pass from underneath and sent it swishing through the net for a 62-62 tie with under 4 minutes left. After Covile hurt his eye getting fouled on a rebound, Doellman came off the bench to shoot the go-ahead free throws at 64-62 for Orleans. McCalebb responded by dancing through the hosts' defense for the tie and then stealing and putting Partizan ahead, 64-65, at the foul line. Dobbins made 2 of 2 free throws to take the lead back for Orleans, and there it stood, 66-65, going into the last 2 minutes. The free throw parade continued with McCalebb's 1 of 2 tying, while the same split for Covile kept Orleans up a point. Maric went put Partizan ahead again with 2 of 2 free throws before Banks, with 50 seconds left, raced in for a high layup to make it 69-68 for Orleans. After a couple offensive rebounds for Partizan, Roberts was stopped on a dunk, but missed both his attempts at the line. Moerman, who rebounded the second miss, made both of his for a 71-68 scoreboard with 19 seconds left. The Orleans fans were on their feet in anticipation of the first-ever Euroleague victory by their team, but they had to wait sitll. Orleans put Rasic on the line, and he made both, although Curti did the same with 9 seconds left for a 73-70 score. When Kecman made 2 more, Banks only responded with 1 of 2, but Doellman got the rebound. He missed the first, made the second for a 75-72 score, giving Partizan one last shot. Maric took it from half court, it banked off the glass, hit the rim, but had too much power and bounded away, giving Orleans the first Euroleague win of its history.
Thursday, December 17, 2009