A classic showdown between two European giants ended in an overtime thriller that put Benetton in first place in Group F with a 111-101 home win against valian Panathinaikos in Treviso, Italy on Thursday. An offensive rebound and basket by Jorge Garbajosa with 4 seconds left in the fourth quarter sent the game to overtime, where Tyus Edney scored 6 points as Benetton pulled away. Benetton raised its record to 3-1 and has an exclusive hold on first place in Group F at 3-1 with two games remaining in the Top 16. Panathinaikos, after leading most of the game and by 10 points in the fourth quarter, is now 1-3 and has its Final Four hopes severely reduced. Maurice Evans led the winners with 33 points, helping to overcome Jaka Lakovic's 36-point show for Panathinaikos. Denis Marconato was once again huge for Benetton, with 20 points and 17 rebounds, while Garbajosa had a double-double, too, with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Edney added 18 points and Marcelo Nicola 10 without a missed shot, including a game-tying three-pointer in the fouth quarter. For Panathinaikos, Darryl Middleton and Kostas Tsartsaris put up 14 points each and Arriel McDonald 11.
Panathinaikos opened the first quarter with a series of quick baskets by Lakovic and Garbajosa keeping Benetton close, at 5-6, with a basket underneath and a three-point shot. A short lineup that included Dmitri Papanikolau and Nikos Hazivrettas created matchup problems for Benetton's defense, and Lakovic kept going with 2 more baskets in a row. Nicola checked in for Marconato and immediately contributed with a three-pointer from the corner to bring Benetton within 11-12, but Lakovic matched him. Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic started bringing fresh forces off the bench, and captain Frangiskos Alvertis did not wait long to sink a long two-pointer and another shot from downtown for an expanded lead of 19-27. Trying to counter the Panathinaikos fireworks, Benetton kept feeding the ball to Marconato, who added a couple free throws before Edney converted a turnover for a 23-27 scoreboard after 10 minutes.
The second quarter started with another long shot from Alvertis, then Lakovic joined him with a strike from three-point territory. Benetton coach Ettore Messina tried Massimo Bulleri for the first time in a couple games when Edney picked up a third foul. After triple by Evans got Benetton closer, at 28-32, but conversely sparked the Greens to action. Lakovic had 5 points and Tsartsaris propelled the defense also with 2 impressive blocked shots as the visitors soared ahead 32-42 on a basket by Middleton. Evans was there, however, in Benetton's time of need, with another three-pointer, two drives to the basket and a jumper from five meters. Panathinaikos had problems against a Benetton zone now, with only Lakovic scoring as the difference was trimmed to 43-48. In the final seconds before halftime, a perfect assist by McDonald was transformed by Lakovic into a sweet jumper from the free throw line, giving him 17 points and the visitors a 43-50 lead after 20 minutes.
Benetton started the third quarter with a fadeaway jumper from Evans while also forcing fouls on the Panathinakos defenders, especially Papanikolau, who picked up his third and fourth. Bulleri scored his first basket to make it 48-52, and Garbajosa quickly followed with 2 free throws. Benetton's defense seemed to work better, too, forcing a 24-second violation with the scoreboard at 52-54. But Lakovic ended that trend with 2 more three-pointers to send the Greens ahead again, 54-60. Benetton seemed unable to find good solutions on offense, and quickly the Panathinaikos advantage took on important dimensions thanks to McDonald, Tsartsaris and an incredible Lakovic. Even George Kalaitzis came in and found a key three-pointer to close the quarter with the visitors holding a 10-point advantage, 65-75.
The fourth quarter brought do-or-die time for Benetton, and Marconato started working inside with 4 points in a row against Middleton and Haris Mujezinovic, both with foul troubles, to narrow the gap to 71-75. The game became a true battle, with both teams looking for good solutions on offense whilst playing a defense careful enough not to draw more fouls on key players. Tsartsaris found one solution from the distance to make it 80-75, but free throws from Garbajosa and a triple by Nicola forged the game's first tie, 80-80, after 36 minutes. Benetton tried a 1-3-1 zone, but Tsartsaris and Lakovic again gave Panathinaikos a strong lead, 81-87, with 3 minutes to go. Enter Evans, whose 4 quick points brought Benetton back from the brink, although McDonald scored to keep the Greens ahead 85-88. Evans replied immediately, and from there the game became a free throw competition. With Benetton still down by 3 and 11 seconds on the clock, Edney went to the line and coolly made the first. On his miss on the second, Benetton pulled a series of three offensive rebounds until finally a short shot from Garbajosa fell through for a 90-90 tie with 5 seconds left, not enough for Panathniakos to organize a good offense.
In overtime, Marconato took over immediately, drawing fouls in the post and scoring at will on offensive putbacks for a 94-92 Benetton edge. After the third consecutive offensive rebound by Marconato, Evans drained a key three-pointer to give Benetton its biggest lead yet, 99-93. Panathinaikos started to lose its concentration, as two turnovers seemed killed the remaining hopes for the Greens. A pair of free throws by Marconato, 2 more from Bulleri and a final dunk by Evans set the score at 111-101. Benetton continued its run toward the Final Four, while Panathinaikos left the company with its pride intact.
Wednesday, March 24, 2004