Olympiakos of Greece has marked the debut of new head coach Lefteris Subotic with a resounding 56-76 Group A road win at Charleroi on Wednesday in that leaves no doubt at all about the Reds being in the Top 16. Olympiakos was already qualified but its last victory had been protested by Unicaja of Spain, who was expected to appeal in the matter. Now, nothing can keep Olympiakos from advancing, and at 9-3 the Reds will now join a tie for second place after Maccabi and Benetton settle their first-place tie on Thursday. Known better for its offense and league-leading scorer Alphonso Ford, it was the Olympiakos defense which shone on Wednesday, holding Charleroi to just 33 points through the first three quarters. Charleroi, playing without key contributors Jim Potter, Darren Engellant and Thomas Van de Vondel, stays in last place at 2-10. Ronald Ellis of Charleroi led all scorers with 20 points and Rober Huggins added 11 for the losers. Ford and Stephane Risacher had 13 each to pace Olympiakos.
Fans in Charleroi knew what to expect after two minutes and the scoreboard was still blocked at 0-0: a defensive struggle. David Desy finally broke the impasse, then Huggins made it 4-0 as Olympiakos failed its first six shots. Olympiakos had trouble facing Charleroi's zone defense, and after six minutes and three turnovers, Subotic called a timeout. But it didn't change anything. Quicker in its fast breaks, Charleroi was above all very tough on defense and ahead 10-6 after 9 minutes. Ford was tempted to take the game in his hands but he was unlucky (2 on 7). On the contrary, the entry of veteran guard Jacques Stas, still a little ill, for Desy, excellent till then, launched the Belgians to 12-6, before Ford made it 12-8 at the end of the first quarter.
Olympiakos's difficulties to score went on, but Charleroi had now difficulty keeping its rebounds and playing inside. In three minutes, Olympiakos foreced 4 turnsover and you could feel the game was turning but the time it was tied 14-14. Charleroi saw Ellis and Desy put it back ahead, 18-14, but continued to lose possessions and miss free throws itself. So it became more and more clear that Olympiakos, dominating physically and by consequence getting more rebounds, was back to stay. A 3-12 run for the visitors sealed a 21-26 before Charleroi was able to cut the deficit to 25-28 at the half. Ellis was up to 10 points for Charleroi by then.
The sensation that Olympiakos had taken the game in its hands was confirmed as the Reds came back from the lockerroom with the clear intention of accelerating. Combined with some distraction and mistakes on the part of Charleroi, the visitors were sure this time to translate their domination on the boards into a double-digit lead, 27-41. In only five minutes, Charleroi had collapsed, and a game that was so open until then suddenly seemed fated with Olympiakos up 33-56 after 30 minutes.
In these conditions, the fourth quarter was undramatic, even if Charleroi tried till the end to keep the margin under 20 points. Olympiakos had proved it could manage the game as it wanted and push on the accelerator when necessary.
Wednesday, January 30, 2002