Tau Ceramica took a step towards clinching first place in Group A with a 68-73 road win over GHP Bamberg on Tuesday night in Germany. Tiago Splitter and Serkan Erdogan scored 16 apiece to lead Tau, which improved to 10-3 with the victory. Tau can clinch the top spot in Group A as soon as this week, depending on other results. Bamberg, which got 25 points from Demond Mallet, dropped to 6-7 and is certain to finish the regular season in fifth place. Tau led comfortably for large chunks of the game, building a 12-point advantage in the third quarter, but the hosts rode Mallet's hot hand back every time. A Robert Garrett three-pointer with a minute left saw Bamberg come as close as 66-69, but a pair of Pablo Prigioni free throws – his only points of the game – let Tau hold on. Travis Hansen added 13 points in his return from injury for Tau, while Luis Scola had 12 and Prigioni dished 7 assists. Koko Archibong and Uvis Helmanis had 11 each for Bamberg.
Bamberg coach Dirk Bauermann started Steffen Hamann at point guard in place of Derrick Phelps, who was on the bench in street clothes due to an ongoing hip problem. Tau's Kornel David stole the ball from Spencer Nelson to start the action, but Nelson blocked Scola on other end. Casey Jacobsen opened the scoring with two layups , though Hamann evened things by penetrating to make it 4-4. Tau pulled ahead again as Erdogan got a lucky bounce on his shot in the lane to make it 5-11. David's long jumper from the wing kept Tau ahead 7-13. After Erdogan missed 2 free throws, however, Mallet buried a three-pointer to pull Bamberg to within 10-14 after 10 minutes.
Splitter opened the second frame with bucket inside that Helmanis answered by firing in a three-pointer from the corner. When Helmanis missed his next shot from the arc, Hansen push Tau's lead back up, to13-19, forcing a Bamberg timeout. The hosts then cut into the lead, but by less than they could have due to missed free throws. That allowed Splitter's three-point play gave Tau a 15-22 advantage. After Nelson and Scola swapped baskets, Chris Ensminger's basket inside cut the difference to 21-24. Mallet returned with a three-pointer to bring Bamberg to within 24-25, but the hosts' ballhandling problems continued as Erdogan's breakaway layup after a steal by Hansen made it 24-29. Another Bamberg timeout didn't help as Hansen's long jumper and Erdogan's layup left Tau in charge, 26-33 at the break.
Tau came out of the locker room hot as Splitter dunked and put back an offensive rebound to open a 29-37 advantage. Soon, Scola's inside lay-in and Erdogan's basket meant the biggest lead yet, 29-41. Bamberg drew energy from its fans to crawl back into the game again. Koko Archibong's rebound and put-back was Bamberg's second straight basket, causing Tau coach Velimir Perasovic to call timeout. Archibong kept going with a jump hook to end an 8-0 Bamberg run with a 37-41 score. Erdogan responded with 4 points as Tau rebuilt its cushion. Mallet answered with a three-pointer, Predrag Drobnjak dunked for Tau, but Helmanis hit free throws and punished Tau's zone with a three-pointer that almost completed the comeback, at 46-48. Roko-Leni Ukic drove for a layup before Erdogan reappeared to hit a triple with 1.2 seconds remaining so Tau could take a 48-53 lead into the final quarter.
After almost 3 scoreless minutes, Splitter opened the fourth-quarter scoring by converting a three-point play to make it 48-56 lead. Bamberg looked to Mallet, whose layup over Splitter and foul-line jumper made it a two-point game again, 54-56 with 5:30 left. Hansen ended Bamberg's run with a three-pointer, but Mallet rained his own from the arc on the shot-clock buzzer to make it 57-59. Scola, Archibong, Splitter and Hansen all made free throws as Tau led 59-65 going into the final 3 minutes. Archibong cut that difference half with a three-pointer from the wing. After Scola and Nelson made a free throw, however, Hansen buried a fall-away triple over Archibong to open a 63-69 lead with 1:18 left. Garrett answered from arc – his first basket of the game – but with 36.2 seconds left, Prigioni made the free throws that gave Tau all the breathing room it needed to get a closer look at finishing first in Group A.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006