Having had a taste of first place in Group A for the past week, Benetton was not ready to give it up, certainly not in front of the fans in Treviso. With superguard Tyus Edney out for another game, then, Benetton merely rolled to an 87-75 home win against its closest pursuer, Efes Pilsen. The victory boosted Benetton's winnign streak to five games and its record to 7-2, even with Barcelona in first place. Efes drops to 5-4 and a three-way tie for third with Cibona and Skipper Bologna. Trajan Langdon shook off early foul trouble to lead the winners with 17 points. Massimo Bulleri and Denis Marconato added 15 each, Marcelo Nicola 13 and Jorge Garbajosa 11. Benetton outrebounded Efes 33-19, too. For the guests, Marcus Brown had 16 points in 40 minutes, Kaspars Kambala added 12 and Omer Onan 11.
Without Edney, still injured, the full weight of Benetton's game plan fell on Bulleri's shoulders and from his hands arrived the first point for the Italian champions. Efes looked for solutions from the duo of Granger and Brown and that work went well in the sense that, after only 3 minutes, Langdon had already gone back to the bench with two fouls. Benetton coach had plenty help to call on, however, from Dante Calabria and Riccardo Pittis. Benetton led 16-10 after 5 minutes in a game where both offenses seemed to get their way. Efes started getting the ball inside to Kambala and Jurica Golemac, who play well together. Golemac was applauded by the Treviso crowd for his assists, especially a behind-the-back pass that allowed Efes to stay within 27-23 after 10 minutes.
Benetton alternated man-to-man defense with a quick 2-3 zone, but again it was just Bulleri who was able to widen the gap with triple. Benetton led 37-27 after 12 minutes, but could not escape because Efes adjusted its defensive walls, looking to anticipate on the perimeter. On offense, Efes used patience and calm to find the way to the basket as the bench players maintained consistency. Asim Pars, for example, made a basket to keep Efes in the game at 37-31 and Omer Onan completed the work by finished a fastbreak for 44-41 shortly before the half. Lucky for Benetton, Marconato started watching the basket more and the hosts were able to stay ahead, 49-44, at the interval.
The second half started with another triple by Onan and a 49-49 tie. Like that, both teams could be certain of a very tough game. But Benetton saw the light quickly Langdon, with 3 fouls that had only let him on the court 8 minutes until then, finished an 11-0 run with a triple that made it 60-49 after 25 minutes. Efes was getting less than they hoped from Brown and Granger as Benetton's defense pinched the Turkish attackers without compassion. Pars created some trouble in the paint, but it was not enough to keep Benetton from leading 67-59 after three quarters.
The fourth quarter opened with Langdon stealing and serving an acrobatic assist to Nicola on the fastbreak to put the lead in double figures, 71-61. When Marconato added the next basket, a present under the basket, Efes was close to a knockout. Efes could do little as the lead peaked at 77-61 thanks again to a basket by Nicola with 4 minutes remaining. But Turkish pride is great as usual and the game was still not over. Kambala's moment was still due. From his hands and Brown's, Efes pushed its last chance, an 0-8 run to within 77-69 with 3 minutes remaining. Once again, however, Langdon was reacy, this time with a triple from the corner, which was followed by an offensive rebound and basket by Marconato. The lead was up to 84-71 now and Benetton was still holding part of first place in Group A.
Thursday, December 19, 2002