With its defense turned on early and Willie Solomon lit up after halftime, Efes Pilsen retained the best record in Group A when it turned back visiting Prokom Trefl Sopot 78-65 on Thursday in Istanbul. Efes raised its record to 9-2 and remained on the right path to at least the best second-place record in the Euroleague Regular Season. Prokom fell to 5-6 but remains in fifth place, two victories ahead of Adecco Estudiantes, its next opponent. Prokom was a point behind in the 23rd minute, when Solomon exploded for 13 points in the next 7 minutes to give Efes double-digit leads for the rest of the game. Goran Nikolic led the winners all night, finishing with 24 points on 10-for-12 two-point shooting. Solomon totalled 17 points and Henry Domercant added 15 for Efes. Istvan Nemeth was Prokom's top scorer with 15 points, while Goran Jagodnik added 14 and Mark Miller 12.
It was the visiting defense instead of the hosts' that had the upper hand early, as Prokom held Efes without a point for the first 2:30. Wojcik and Darius Maskoliunas took advantage of the situation to put the guests ahead 0-4. After Nikolic got Efes going with a couple basket, the same Prokom pair pushed their team ahead 4-9. After Goran Jagodnik made the score 6-11, however, it was the Efes defense that took control. His was the only Prokom basket for alost 5 minutes. Efes tied on a triple by Domercant and went ahead 13-11 on his jumper the next time down the floor. Nikolic, replacing Kaya Peker in the starting five, added 2 more baskets around the first for new Efes player Dusan Kecman as the hosts finished a 13-0 run. Mark Miller broke the spell with free throws for Prokom, but Nikolic still had a basket left in him before he ended the quarter with 10 points and Efes in control at 21-13.
Domercant matched Nikolic's 10 points when his second three-pointer fell early in the second quarter for the highest lead yet, 24-15. Prokom needed help, and Nemeth stepped up with 2 baskets to go with another from Miller as the guests pulled within 24-19. Efes was still ahead by 28-21, however, when Nemeth knocked down back-to-back three-pointers on consecutive possessions to cut the difference to 30-27. Nikolic was still hot for Efes, however, and now reached 15 points with a bucket that fueled a 5-0 mini-run by the hosts. Prokom wouldn't go away, however, and when Miller found room for a final three-pointer in the half, the visitors were as close as 37-34 at the break.
The missing element for Efes in the first half had been Soomon, but he didn't stay missing long in the third quarter. After Prokom fought back to within 41-40 on a jumper by Tomas Masiulis, Solomon made the rest of the quarter his own. His first three-pointer stretched the difference to 46-40 and sent him on his own 7-0 run that finished with a double-digit lead for Efes, 50-40, on his free throw in minute 25. Whenever Prokom looked to gain back ground after that, Solomon was there to stop them, with 2 more triples. He finished with 13 points in 10 minutes to raise the fans in Abdi Ipekci arena from their seats and give Efes a 60-48 advantage after 30 minutes.
Prokom tried to be more aggressive on defense in attempts to come back and clearly caused Efes to make more mistakes in offense as it went 4 minutes, 30 seconds without scoring to start the final quarter. The problem for Prokom was that it onlyh managed to score one basket itself in all that time. Nikolic broke the scoreless spell for Efes and with a jump shot that made it 62-50. In the 36th minutes, Miller's next triple and free throws by Nemeth reduced the gap to 7 points, 64- 57, but a pair of free throws by Domercant and a big three from Ender Arslan re-opened the gap to 74-59. This time, against this defense, Prokom wasn't coming back and would have to wait for another game to keep chasing its own Top 16 aspirations.
Thursday, January 20, 2005