Benetton forced a second-place tie in Group G of the Top 16 when it outlasted visiting Efes Pilsen 94-87 in Treviso, Italy on Wednesday. Both teams now have 2-2 records, although Efes kept a head-to-head advantage between them due to its 12-point victory when they opened the Top 16 in Istanbul. Ramunas Siskauskas and Drew Nicholas scored 21 points each for Benetton in the come-from-behind victory. Nicholas hit 8 of 9 free throws while Siskauskas shot 7-for-9 from the field in this crucial win. Matteo Soragna added 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting, 5 rebounds and 5 assists while Andrea Bargnani had 12 points and hit 9 of 10 free throws for Benetton. Antonio Granger led Efes with 30 points while making 5 of 8 three-pointers. Niksa Prkacin had 21 and didn't miss any of his 9 shots, while Henry Domercant scored 16 points for the guests, who led almost for most of the game's first 27 minutes. That's when Nicholas led a 10-0 run which gave Benetton a 63-60 lead going into the final quarter, the first 5 minutes of which was marked by 8 three-pointers between the teams. Siskauskas and Nicholas helped Benetton to keep a slim lead until the final buzzer of a true Euroleague thriller.
Siskauskas finished a quick Benetton transition with a corner three-pointer to get the game started. Kaya Peker answered for Efes with an acrobatic jumper. Uros Slokar soon fired in a five-meter jumper that Soragna followed with a triple for a 8-2 Benetton lead. Prkacin worked hard to find a second-chance layup but Siskauskas erased it with an off-balance jumper. Soragna scored again, on a jumper, before surprise starter Cenk Akyol buried a triple to bring Efes within 12-9. Petar Popovic and Prkacin exchanged baskets, while Marcus Goree hit a fallaway jumper for a 16-11 Benetton edge. Domercant came off the bench and nailed his first triple, only to see Siskauskas matched it. Prkacin kept hurting Benetton with a basket-plus-free throw to which Akyol added free throws, but Goree came off the baseline for a layup to give Benetton a 21-20 lead after 10 minutes.
Soragna fed Goree for a close basket to start the second quarter. A red-hot Prkacin answered for Efes nd then Granger hit a floating jumper to give the guests their first lead, 23-24. Domercant added a long two-pointer the prompted a Benetton timeout, but after it, Ender Arslan nailed a triple off the dribble to cap a 0-9 run with Efes holding a 23-29 margin. Benetton went scoreless for 4 minutes until Siskauskas slashed to pop in a short jumper. Granger decided to take over for Efes, hitting a jumper and then copying Bargani's three-pointer and driving for a layup good for his team's biggest margin yet, 28-36. Marco Mordente of Benetton then found space for an uncontested layup and Nicholas hit a triple coming out of an Efes timeout. But Domercant hit from deep to keep Efes out of trouble before Bargnani drilled 4 free throws and Nicholas beat the buzzer to Benetton within 39-41 at halftime.
Granger kept pacing Efes with a jump hook early in the third quarter while Prkacin scored on his seventh basket in as many sttempts, for a 39-45 Efes lead. Benetton went scoreless for more than 2 minutes until Goree made a free throw, but once again Prkacin took over with a new three-point play, good for a 40-48 Efes margin. The Efes defense just excelled as Peker had a big block on Popovic that allowed Granger to score in the other end. Mordente finally nailed a three-pointer for Benetton as the hosts tried a small lineup with Siskauskas at power forward. Free throws by Nicholas brought Benetton as close as 47-52 but even as Soragna buried a three, Arslan answered with an acrobatic basket to keep Efes in charge, 50-57. Granger found his rhythm again with an off-balance triple which Nicholas erased in the other end. Efes found severe foul trouble once Prkacin and Peker picked up their fourth each. The guests had switched to zone defense, but Siskauskas punished it with a long-distance shot and Soragna added a floating jumper that sent Benetton in front, 61-60 lead. Nicholas capped a 10-0 run with an outstanding driving layup that set Palaverde on fire and left Benetton up 63-60 after three quarters.
Domercant's six-meter jumper in transition let Efes start the final quarter right, but Nicholas stayed on fire with an outstanding four-point play to boost Benetton's lead to 67-62. Granger answered with a big triple and even when Slokar dunked for Benetton, Domercant fired again from downtown to bring Efes within 69-68. Slokar joined the three-point fun, however, and Mordente added free throws for a 74-68 Benetton margin. Arslan, Siskauskas and Granger each fired in triples then, but when the smoke cleared, a put-back by Mordente kept the hosts ahead, 79-74. Granger shined again with an off-balance three-pointer while Prkacin scored in the low post right before fouling out to make it 80-79. But Benetton got the response it needed as Bargnani hit free throws and Soragna fired in a key three-pointer, forcing an Efes timeout at 85-79. Granger stayed on fire with a three-point play but Bargnani made 2 more from the foul line for a 87-82 Benetton lead with 3 minutes to go. Granger shocked everyone with yet another basket. Bargnani drew Peker's fifth foul and made 1 of 2 free throws while Siskauskas added 2 foul shots and a put-back basket to make it 92-85 with a minute to go, enough to seal a pivotal win for Benetton.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006