| Croatian powerhouse Cibona survived a fourth-quarter comeback by Le Mans to pick up an important 54-58 road victory and stay unbeaten in Group A. Cibona is now 2-0 and tied with Olympiacos for first place in the group, while Le Mans fell to 0-2. The hosts trailed for most of the game, but managed to put up a huge 13-0 run to take their first lead at 52-51 with 1:23 to go. However, misses and turnovers on the next two possessions deflated the home crowd and gave Cibona the means to seal the victory from the free throw line. Point guard Earl Calloway led Cibona with 19 points and 5 assists and made 4 key free throws with 10 seconds left. Big man Nikola Prkacin dominated the paint, making all his 8 shots from the field and scoring 13 of his 17 points in the first half to help Cibona build an 18-29 lead. Rawle Marshall added 11 points for the winners and hit the decisive free throws that put Cibona in front with 25 seconds to go. Joao Paulo Batista came off the bench to lead Le Mans with 21 points, scoring all but 2 of them in a monstrous second half. No other Le Mans player reached double figures. The hosts were hurt by poor long-distance shooting as they went 0 for 12 shooting beyond the arc. Cibona was not much better, making just 2 of 14, but all 6 points counted in the end.
David Bluthenthal didn't need more than 10 seconds to get the Le Mans home crowd going with a mid-rang jumper from the right baseline. Both teams struggled on offense early, exchanging turnovers and missed shots, as the rims didn't seem to like the ball, spitting it out on both ends. Indeed, Cibona didn't score in the first five-and-a-half minutes, until Marshall hit a three-pointer to make it even at 3-3. Alain Koffi split two free throws and then powered in a tough fade-away jumper to give Le Mans a 6-3 lead. Cibona's point guard, Calloway, answered by feeding Prkacin for an easy two and by making a three-point play himself for a 6-8 edge to the visitors. Neither team could buy a basket outside the paint, as even Bluthental, usually a reliable shooter, missed a couple open opportunities. The Calloway-Prkacin combination worked once again for Cibona to give the visitors a 6-10 lead after the first quarter.
Prkacin found another easy bucket to open the second period. Brian Chase answered with a runner in the lane for Le Mans, but Marin Rozic was wide open on the other end to make a layup-plus-free throw for Cibona. Le Mans was a disastrous 3-for-20 after another Bluthental miss, so he decided to drive on the next possession for an easy left hook. But it was another player, Prkacin, who dominated the second quarter with an array of left hooks, as no Le Mans player could stop the veteran Cibona center inside. Le Mans also started working the ball inside, and got some points from the free throw line as a result. Nonetheless, a double-teamed Prkacin fed Luksa Andric for an open three-pointer at the other end. Dewarick Spencer flew past Cibona's defence for an acrobatic lay-up, but it was once again Prkacin who scored the last points of the half to make it a double-digit advantage, 18-29, for Cibona at intermission
Batista went to work for Le Mans to start the second half. The big man was a perfect 3 of 3 from the field to spark an 8-4 run by Le Mans that forced Cibona head coach Velimir Perasovic to call a timeout at 26-33. Cibona answered by going to their big guy, too, and Prkacin made up for a turnover with another left-handed baby hook. Bluthenthal found space for a shot in the lane and Batista added a free throw before Calloway took over with consecutive layups to reestablish a double-digit lead. Batista converted on another power move inside, and though Marshall came through with a tough jumper, Le Mans was picking it up on the defensive end, forcing Cibona into consecutive turnovers. Unfortunately for the home fans, Le Mans kept missing everything outside the paint, though Antoine Diot's reverse layup cut the difference 33-41 after 30 minutes of play.
Spencer got Le Mans closer with an easy fastbreak layup before Calloway found Prkacin for another left hook. Batista tipped it in to make it 37-43, but Calloway responded with another drive. Marshall and Batista exchanged baskets before Vedran Vukusic copied Prkacin with a lefty hook. Next, Calloway punished some defensive pressure by dribbling for a layup that was worth Cibona's biggest lead of the second half, 39-51 with 5 minutes to go. Een if it didn't seem so right then, Cibona was in for a battle. Le Mans refused to give up as Batista used the glass for a basket and Koffi nailed 2 free throws, Chase forced a turnover before Spencer made a tough shot and the free throw that came with it. Cibona struggled to set anything up on the offensive end, while Batista score 4 more points to complete an incredible 13-0 run that gave Le Mans its first lead of the game, 52-51 with 1:23 on the clock. Le Mans had two chances to add to that lead, but couldn't hit the shots, after which Marshall forced Koffi to foul him on a fastbreak. The athletic swingman calmly sank both to give Cibona a 52-53 with 25.5 seconds to go. Still Le Mans had a chance, but Spencer lost the ball to Prkacin, and Chase had to foul Calloway to stop the clock. He was given an intentional foul, so Calloway nailed both free throws, and then added another pair to increase the lead to 52-58 lead with too few seconds left for Le Mans to rally again.
Thursday, October 30, 2008