Real Madrid stormed into the Top 16 from Group C by holding on for a 72-80 road win over Partizan Igokea in Belgrade, Serbia on Thursday. Madrid raised its record to 8-3, good enough to tie for second place with archrival Barcelona, which lost by a point to group leader Panathinaikos at home. Partizan is now 4-7 and tied for fifth place with Lottomatica Roma. Madrid staked its game plan on shutting down Nikola Pekovic, the top-rated performer in the Euroleague going into the game, and succeeded in limiting him to 6 points. Felipe Reyes led the winners with 15 points, while Alex Mumbru had 14 and Lazaros Papadopoulos 12. For Partizan, Milt Palacio and Dusan Kecman posted 13 points each while Milenko Tepic added 10. A close game was tied for the last time at 68-68, after which Reyes scored the next 6 points and Madrid managed that margin until the victory was in hand.
After almost 2 scoreless minutes Charles Smith opened fire in sold-out Pionir Arena as Madrid started with double-teaming Pekovic, Partizan's most dangerous weapon. Blagota Sekulic scored now for the guests before a three-point play from Palacio got Partizan on the board. Sekulic scored again before Uros Tripkovic tied it up 8-8 with another three-point play. Madrid restored a slim lead that jumped to 6 points when Tunceri hit first triple in the game. Madrid big man Lazaros Papadopoulos and Pekovic went off, replaced by Felipe Reyes and Slavko Vranes, respectively, but nothing changed and the visitors held a 17-21 advantage at the end of first quarter.
Partizan opened second period with an 8-0 run, taking over the lead as Petar Bozic struck from behind the arc and Vranes dunked. Bullock answered for Madrid and Reyes tied again among 7 straight points that pushed the visitors back in front at 27-32. Vranes continued boosting the hosts with 5 straight points that forged another tie, 37-37. But Madrid held on to lead after one half 38-41 with Alex Mumbru's points from the line.
Both teams started the second half with hard defensive work that resulted in another 2 scoreless minutes. Then Charles Smith and Kecman traded triples before Mumbru added one more as Madrid now led 41-49. Kecman inspired a 7-0 run for Partizan, but just when the visitors seemd to be gaining momentum, Raul Lopez scored a bomb for Madrid in a crucial moment. Papadopoulos added basket-plus-free throw, helping Real to increase its lead to 50-59. He added one more as third period ended with the guests still looking strong at 53-61.
After Bullock increased the gap with a triple to start the final quarter, Novica Velickovic and Palacio brought back hope to Partizan. When Palacio added a three-pointer, the score was 60-65, but Mumbru quieted the crowd by stroking from downtown on the shot-clock buzzer. Milenko Tepic answered the same way for Partizan, however, and when Palacio scored on a fastbreak, Madrid was forced to call timeout holding a 65-68 lead in minute 34. Tepic scored once more from downtown to cap a 15-4 run with a 68-68 tie. From that moment forward, the teams were struggling not for each basket but for each square centimeter on the court. Reyes showed his class with 6 straight points, giving that much of an advantage to Madrid with 2 minutes left. Tepic and Mumbru traded baskets and when Tripkovic missed a triple, Madrid's position was safe to keep the win until the end as Lopez sealed the victory with points from the line.
Thursday, January 10, 2008