Sometimes history helps when nothing else can. AEK went back to Istanbul, the original home of the club's founders, and wound up getting its first win of the Euroleague regular season with a 74-79 upset against host Efes Pilsen in Group A. AEK, which had been the last winless team in the league, improves to 1-5, while Efes drops to 3-3 in what is becoming the crowded middle of the group. AEK's leader again was forward Mikalis Kakiouzis, who drilled 22 points, including 4 in the final minute that sealed the victory. This time, however, he had huge backing from Andrew Betts, with 20 points, and Rodney Blakney, with 16. For Efes, Kaspars Kambala was once again huge on the inside, with 30 points and 9 rebounds. But AEK's perimeter defenders held the Euroleague's second-best scorer, Marcus Brown, to half his average, 10 points. Antonio Granger added 12 for the hosts, but only 3 of those after halftime.
AEK had a fast start to a 0-5 lead in under 2 minutes capped by a three-pointer from Kakiouizis. But it did not take long for Efes to equal its guests. In fact, Antonio Granger's tip-in in the third minute gave Efes its first lead, 7-6. The hosts quickly extended that advantage to 7 points, 18-11, when Brown struck with 3 free throws in a row. But AEK did everything to keep the game from getting out of its hands. Point guard Rodney Blakney's three-pointers and inside baskets from center Andrew Betts helped the Greek team catch Efes. A three-point shot-plus-foul by Betts at the nine-minute mark completed a 0-7 run and tied the proceedings 18-18. Betts was also the point man in AEK's effort to put a lid on Kambala, who had just 4 points in the quarter. Betts himself reached 9 with a last-second dunk that put the visitors ahead 21-22 when the quarter had finished.
Efes Pilsen, until then hurt by too many turnovers, took the control of the match in the second quarter as Kambala seized the responsibility for the home team. One of his baskets inside pushed the lead to 5 points at 29-24 in the 14th minute, and another made it 38-32 in the 18th. That was followed by a dunk by Granger that boosted eves to its highest lead of the half, 40 - 32. If Kambala was gaining momentum, AEK's first-quarter scorer, Kakiouzis, was now being controlled by the Efes defense, which also had changed the dynamic by forcing turnovers on the visitors. The eight-point lead held for Efes through the end of the quarter, at 42-34, with Kambala having soared to 18 points by then. For AEK, Betts had 11 and Kakiouzis 10.
Kambala hit the first basket of the third quarter, too, another insider that counted for the first double-digit lead of the night, 44-34. But Efes was not shooting well outside, and that helped AEK reduce the difference little by little. At the 25-minute mark, a drive plus free throw by Blakney cut the deficit to 48-44. Next, Betts repeated the three-point play on the inside to reduce it to 1 point, 48-47. Betts was soon at the foul line again, making 2 shots to put the lead in the hands of the visitors at 48-49, then guard Nikos Hatzis made it stick with a three-pointer for 48-52. AEK's 6-18 run had lasted 7 minutes, during which Efes made many offensive mistakes which the visitors took advantage of for fastbreaks. Now, the home team's wing shooter, Jurica Golemac, committed his fifth foul and was out of the game after 29 minutes. AEK had the momentum again as the third quarter ended 51-53 in favor of the visitors.
The AEK defense held down Efes for almost 2 minutes to start the final quarter, and Nikolaos Zisis crowned that effort with a three-pointer that put the AEK lead up to 7 points, 51-58. Betts, Blakney and Kakiouzis were the go-to guys as the visitors continued to maintain a gap at 62-66 halfway through the quarter. With little more than 4 minutes to go, Alper Yilmaz stepped up for Efes with a triple that reduced the differance to 1 point, 67-68. That set up a breathtaking finish. With 2 minutes, 33 seconds left, Blakney hit a three that gave AEK breathing room at 67-71, but after Betts fouled out, Kerem Tunceri matched with a three for Efes, good for another one-point difference, 72-73. With 31 seconds left, Kakiouzis boosted the AEK lead to 72-75. Tunceri was called for an offensive foul 10 seconds later, and Kakiouzis added two free throws for 72-77. AEK's first win of the season was guaranteed.
Thursday, November 14, 2002