It is not easy to stun 10,000 people at once, but Elmer Bennett and Tau Ceramica did just that on Wednesday night in Tel Aviv with a miraculous come-from-behind 77-78 victory in Group H over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Bennett, who struggled early against Maccabi's great defense, made an open three-pointer in transition with 1.2 seconds left on the clock to win it for the Spanish visitors. With 7 seconds to go, Anthony Parker had put Maccabi ahead with an equally difficult shot, a bank with a defender hanging all over him. Bennett's shot seemed predestined, however, as Tau had scored almost as many points in a 19-35 final quarter as they had the rest of the game. Bennett's veteran twin at the point, Chris Corchiani, was one catalyst, hitting 4 of 4 three-pointers, two of which got the comeback started. Dejan Tomasevic was another, scoring a pair of three-point plays inside as Tau got back in the game. Tomasevic also claimed two offensive rebounds that allowed Laurent Foirest to give Tau it's first tie of the game, 75-75, on yet another three-pointer, with 21.7 seconds left. Maccabi had led by a high of 23-7 in an electric first quarter and still was up 15 points, 58-43, headed into the final 10 minutes. The only lead that counts, however, is the last one, and Bennett's shot gave Tau its first and only lead of the night. The victory leaves Tau atop the group at 2-0 and Maccabi tied at 1-1 with CSKA Moscow, who won over Ulker earlier Thursday.
Tomasevic led Tau with 14 points and 9 rebounds. Bennett, Corchiani and Andres Nocioni added 13 each for the winners, who made 11 of 25 three-pointers (44%) to 4 of 14 (28%) for Maccabi. Six of Tau's three-pointers came in the final quarter. For Maccabi, Parker led the way with 22 points, while Nate Huffman, Arriel McDonald and Huyesin Besok added 13 each.
Maccabi had come out after the opening tip off ready to prove some points, not to mention score some. With Huseyin Besok lining up alongside Huffman in the starting lineup, the hosts rocketed ahead by scores of 6-0, 15-5 and 23-7 in the first quarter as everything they did went right. Parker came off screens to hit sweet jumpers. Besok glued himself to offensive rebounds and put them right back in. McDonald pick-pocketed the Tau ballhandlers in the open court and dropped the ball to Huffman to deposit in the basket. On the defensive end, Tau got one shot, and it took some work to get that many, then Maccabi was off and running with the rebound. If anything, however, the quarter was too long for the home team. Tau found its chance to sneak back with a late pair of three-point plays. One was a steal and dunk by Andres Nocioni that came with a nice pass from Sergi Vidal and a free throw. The other was Bennett, the team leader, back from injury and struggling against Maccabi's defense, raising up from 7 meters to end the quarter with a three-pointer. The scoreboard said 23-15 Maccabi and all notions of a blowout were beside the point.
Derrick Sharp opened the second quarter with a three-pointer for Maccabi, so when Besok and Parker added their own baskets, the lead was back up in double digits at 30-19. Tau would not let Maccabi get comfortable, however. Three-pointers by Nocioni and Vidal sandwiched around a dunk by Fabricio Oberto pulled Tau within four, at 31-27. Parker took the pressure off with a turn-around jumper, then he and McDonald each pulled off big steals as Maccabi steadied the ship at 38-31 heading into the locker room. Parker was the offensive light, with 13 points for Maccabi, but it was the defense that was holding Tau down that proved the star, forcing Tau into one difficult shot after the next, often against the last ticks of the shot clock.
If Tau thought the basket looked far and small the first half, the visitors were in for worse. With McDonald and Parker working the passing lanes like masters, Maccabi went off on an 11-4 run, capped by a Tal Burstein three-pointer, to start the third quarter with a new big lead of 49-35. It stayed that high after a pair of Besok free throws made it 55-42 and finally, to end the quarter, McDonald drained a big three. Maccabi was ahead 58-43 and had to be thinking about keeping the margin that high. Tau was still thinking of winning.
The visitors began the fourth quarter looking like they fully expected to win. Hugo Sconochini started it, innocently enough, with a two-pointer. Then Corchiani fired a three-pointer. Then he did it again. Suddenly, Tomasevic was getting fouled on a short shot and making his free throw. Like that, the lead was down to 62-54. And despite Huffman and Parker putting down a couple baskets to level Maccabi, the margin was the same, 68-60, after Corchiani's third three-pointer of the quarter, with 4 minutes still remaining. A minute later, Maccabi was still up eight, 70-62, when Tomasevic had a lay-in and Bennett slipped through the defense to cut the deficit to 70-66. Next up, Nocioni threw a monster dunk over Huffman to make it 71-68, and then Corchiani got to the line for two free throws. Maccabi breathed easy when two foul shots by Parker made it 73-69 with 1:10 to go. But again Bennet was the man, dropping a three to keep Tau close. Huffman now sank two pressure free throws, but then came the key play. Bennett missed a three, Tomasevic rebounded, then Foirest missed one, then Tomasevic rebounded again. This time Foirest didn't miss. His shot from the corner tied it up 75-75 and left the stage to Parker and Bennett. The first didn't miss, but neither did the second, and his was a three-pointer, which could make all the difference in the world when it comes time to see who wins this group.
Wednesday, March 6, 2002