Partizan Igokea stormed back to the battle for a spot in the Quarterfinal Playoffs with a 78-75 win over Montepaschi Siena at Pionir Arena in Belgrade, Serbia, on Wednesday night. Milt Palacio scored 14 of his season-high 26 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Serbian champs to an impressive come-from-behind win in a game that saw three ties and three lead changes in the final three minutes. Partizan improved to 2-2 in Group D, while handing Motepaschi its first loss and denying the Italian champs the opportunity to clinch a quarterfinal berth already. Montepaschi forward Shaun Stonerook, who with his team trailing by 1 in the closing seconds, deflected Novica Velickovic’s inbounds pass to create a key steal, went from hero to zero when he was subsequently fouled, missed 2 free throws and committed an unsportsmanlike foul on Dusan Kecman, who iced the game from the line. Nikola Pekovic added 16 points and 7 rebounds for the winners, while Kecman and Velickovic finished with 10 points apiece. Ben Eze and Terrell McIntyre paced Montepaschi with 16 each and Stonerook posted 13 in defeat. Partizan started hot and rode Palacio to a 14-6 start, however Montepaschi quickly came back on the strength of Stonerook's three-point shooting and held a slim 32-34 lead at halftime. The visitors pulled away with a 0-10 run midway through the third quarter, during which Eze scored 6 points, to take a 41-52 lead. However the hosts never stopped believing and were within 2 already after a Palacio three-point play in the first minute of the fourth quarter. Montepaschi looked to put it away when another Stonerook triple and a McIntyre fast-break layup made it 60-68, but Partizan, led by Palacio, scored the next 8 points to tie it and then went ahead on Velickovic’s three-pointer, creating drama that went to the wire.
Palacio opened the game in style scoring 4 straight points for Partizan. The hosts used great defense to frustrate Montepaschi and take an 8-2 lead after four minutes. Montepaschi had lots of problems in transition, but Eze kept the visitors close. When Pekovic replaced Slavko Vranes after seven minutes Partizan switched off its zone defense leading 14-6 after another Palacio jumper. In the final minute of the first period, Montepaschi cut the gap when Stonerook hit his first triple of the game and carried his team to within 16-13 after 10 minutes.
Stonerook scored once more from behind the arc, but Pekovic tied 4 points from the paint to keeping Partizan 4 points ahead. But the answer from Stonerook came quickly: One more bomb. Vlado Ilievski scored on the fastbreak, forcing the Partizan bench to call timeout as the score was tied at 21-21. Ilievski inspired Montepaschi to its first lead, 23-24, with a three-point play. He took over the lead role for the visiting team, while Velickovic committed his third personal at the other side. Kecman and Drake Diener scored as the teams were trading the 1-point lead. Partizan switched to zone defense again with Vranes in the middle, but Montepaschi answered with two guards – Ilievski and McIntyre – together forcing long-distance shots. Eze gave the guests the lead with a powerful slam and after a Partizan turnover and a jumper from Romain Sato, the score was 29-34. Partizan managed to score from the line and the low-scoring first half ended with Montepaschi ahead 32-34.
Pekovic tied it and helped Partizan take the lead again with a three-point play and a second chance basket. Bootsy Thornton then tied the game by scoring from downtown. McIntyre added a triple and Eze found some points in the paint to keep Montepaschi 5 points ahead. When McIntyre scored a triple and additional point from the line, the team from Siena was 9 points ahead with three minutes to go in the third quarter. Partizan continued to look confused on offense as Montepaschi pushed the lead to double-digits after a 0-10 run. Milenko Tepic cut the gap with 4 points from the line, but Montepaschi still had comfortable 47-54 lead after the third period in which Eze scored 10 points.
Inspired by Tepic, Partizan opened the final period with a 5-0 run, but was stopped by Ksistof Lavrinovic, who drilled a triple. Ilievski joined with a jumper and the gap was 7 points again, but the game was open when Palacio answered with his first triple for Partizan. Soon Velickovic added one more bomb as the score was 60-63 in a galvanized atmosphere. But Stonerook silenced the sold-out Pionir Arena with his fourth three-pointer. McIntyre scored in the fastbreak and Partizan called timeout down 60-68. Palacio struck with 4 points from the line and Pekovic added 2 free throws and the score was 66-68 with 2 minutes left. Palacio concluded Partizan’s 8-0 run forcing Montepaschi to call timeout as the score was tied 68-68. The hosts took over the lead at 71-70 when Velickovic hit a bomb with a minute-and-a-half remaining, but Lavrinovic added 2 more from the line for the guests. Palacio did the same and last minute of the game started with a 73-72 Partizan lead. Palacio added a jumper with 30 seconds to go, but Sato brought back hope to guests. With a 75-73 lead, Kecman made only 1 free throw and at the other end, McIntyre was cool twice. Partizan had the ball with 13 seconds left. After a timeout Velickovic lost the ball and fouled Stonerook, who missed twice from the line and fouled Kecman with 2 seconds to go. He scored both and the arena celebrated another Partizan win in the Top 16.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008