|Spirou Basket has catapulted Belgium back to Europe's top competition for the first time in nine years! Spirou held on desperately to tie host Alba 70-70 before 11,840 fans in Berlin on Sunday to win the last of three Turkish Airlines Euroleague Qualifying Rounds and thereby advance to the regular season, which starts October 18. Spirou had taken the first game of their two-leg series by 4 points at home in Charleroi, so the tie in Berlin gave Belgian champs enough to win the series on aggregate score. Spirou goes to Group B of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Regular Season and Khimki, the other qualifying winner, to Group A. Spirou's second straight Turkish Airlines Euroleague qualifying series victory on the road, following an upset of Unics Kazan in the last round, came thanks to a pair of late free throws by Demond Mallet - his first points all game - which turned back an incredible rally by Alba. Spirou had led by 11 points, 53-64, with under 4 minutes to play, but missed 4 of 6 free throws early in the final minute to give Alba a fighter's chance. A pair of three-point shots and free throws put Alba up 70-68, but Mallet's steady hand denied the hosts a chance to shoot at the buzzer for the series victory. Brian Greene topped Spirou's scorers with 17 points, while Chris Hill had 14, Andre Riddick 13 and 9 rebounds, and Joseph Gomis 10. For Alba, Derrick Allen had 20 points and Julius Jenkins 13, although none in the second half. Also, Spirou's defense held Immanuel McElroy scoreless until the game's next-to-last minute. With the series loss, Alba returns to the Eurocup, where it was runner-up for the title last season.
Greene provided Spirou's early spark, scoring all the points as the visitors raced ahead 2-6. Alba was able to turn the scoreboard in its favor, however, with a triple from Jenkins at 9-8. The lead changed once more before Allen's back-to-back baskets put Alba up 13-10. The hosts' defense proceeded to blank Spirou's scorers during more than 4 minutes until Riddick broke the slide for the guests, ending the first quarter at 16-12, making it a tied series. The point-for-point battle continued into the second quarter with Alba going up three times by 6 points, but Spirou quickly answering, the second and third times on three-point efforts by Hill. By the time his next three-point shot landed, Spirou was within 28-27. Alba reacted with the next 6 points in a row, including a pair of baskets by Allen, although Riddick again cut the margin before the end of two quarters to 34-29. In other words, Alba held a one-point series lead with 20 minutes to go.
The veteran Riddick scored 5 points early in the second half to put Spirou back within striking distance of the lead, which Gomis finally seized with a three-point strike. Patrick Femerling answered for Alba with 3 points the hard way, but Gomis and Greene hit back-to-back layups to put Spirou back ahead, 41-43. It was Spirou's defense that dominated now, with only Femerling scoring for Alba during 5 minutes until Allen was able to tie, 44-44, at the foul line following an offensive rebound. Greene brought back Spirou's offensive spark with a layup and a huge triple, which Gomis soon copied from downtown near the third-quarter buzzer for Spirou's biggest lead of the night so far, 46-52, or 10 points with 10 minutes to go in the series. A layup by Allen for Alba was offset by free throws from Hill to open the fourth quarter. The problem for Alba, however, was the slow scoring pace. When Riddick upped Spirou's lead to 48-56, the hosts were down 12 points with less than 7 minutes to play. Price gave Alba hope with a triple, but Greene matched it with a basket-plus-free throw. Marko Marinovic's 2-of-3 free-throw shooting made it a 53-59 game with 5 minutes to play. Spirou's lead on the scoreboard would eventually rise to 53-64 on layups by Hill and Justin Hamilton, leaving a 15-point difference in the series. Finally, Alba reacted with an 8-0 run to get within 61-64 in the next-to-last minute. After a timeout, Spirou found Riddick for an all-important basket. After McElro scored his very first point, the final minute started 62-66. Hill added a free throw for Spirou before McElroy canned a triple at 65-68. The same process happened with Greene and Price, producing a 68-68 tie. Fouling worked again for Alba, as Gomis missed both of his free throws, while Allen made 2 of 2, putting the hosts ahead 70-68. This time, Spirou got the ball to the right man, Mallet, who canned his first free throw attempt for his first point of the game. The all-important second one went down just as smooth, making Alba's rally too little, too late and putting Spirou in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague for 2010-11.
Sunday, October 10, 2010