Partizan kept its nose in the Group C race for the Top 16 when it outlasted visiting Montepaschi 75-73 in Belgrade on Wednesday despite a shortage of guards. Partizan, which cut starter Gerald Brown during the week and has yet to see his replacement, Vonteego Cummings, also had two guards foul out with 3 minutes to go. The hosts held on to win, however, with heroic effort from none other than Dejan Milojevic, who finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Partizan's record is now 2-7 while Montepaschi dropped to 3-6. Uros Tripkovic added 18 points for the winners and Nikola Loncar 10. Montepaschi got 16 points each from Andrea Pecile and Ramunas Kaukenas, plus 12 each from Vladimer Boisa and Justin Hamilton. The visitors had a chance to win it on the last shot, but Marcelo Nikola's three-point attempt missed.
After 2 scoreless minutes, Mindaugas Zukauskas opened fire for the guests with a triple and Hamilton got the same on a drive-plus-free throw for a quick 0-6 Montepaschi lead. Tripkovic cut that in half with one shot, but Boisa and Kaukenas added baskets for the guests before Predrag Suput found another triple for Partizan. When Boisa answered, however, Montepaschi had a 6-13 lead. Milojevic emerged then, and with a help from Perovic and Tripkovic, led a 7-0 Partizan run to tie 13-13. Milojevic was hardly finished. He dd 4 more points for his team's first lead, 17-15, before Shaun Stonerook and Pecile turned the score to Montepaschi's side again. Nikola Pekovic cut the visitors' advantage to 18-21 after 10 minutes.
Milojevic scored free throws to open the second quarter by getting Partizan within 21-23, but Pecile was not only giving Montepaschi aggresiveness on defense, but he was scoring too. When he measured and dropped his first triple, the visitors were up 21-26. And when Milojevic, Loncar and Kosta Perovic combined for 6 straight points to seize a new Partizan edge, Pecile took it back with another shot from downtown. Milojevic tied 29-29 with free throws, to which Kaukenas responded with a pair of layups for Montepaschi. Tripkovic netted another triple to make it 32-33, but in the final minute of the half, Roberto Chiacig scored inside to bring Montepaschi ahead by 33-35 at the break.
Tripkovic tied the score with a jump shot in the first minute of the second half, but Hamilton and Chiacig gave Montepaschi another 35-39 lead. Milojevic cut that with his three-pointer, and when Tripkovic copied him, Partizan was up again, 41-39. Tripkovic made it three in a row from the arc and Perovic to complete an 11-0 Partizan run that forced a Montepaschi timeout with 46-39 on the scoreboard. Newcomer Jamel Thomas broke the visitors' drought, but that was just the sign for Milojevic to fire in another bomb. Pecile answered the same way, Hamilton followed him from the arc, but Pekovic dunked to keep Partizan up 52-47 after 27 minutes. The three-point party continued for Pecile, but the hosts got 4 points in free throws from Tripkovic and Pekovic to stay in front, 56-52, after 30 minutes.
After Loncar opened the fourth quarter from the arc, Partizan's 59-52 stood for the next 2 minutes as the hosts switched again to a defensive zone that puzzled Montepaschi. The guests pressed in response, and Boisa managed to get a layup and 3 free throws in to make the score 61-57 with 5 minutes left. That's when Luka Bogdanovic scored from downtown to fire up the fans in Pionir Arena, but they soon saw Tripkovic and Petar Bozic fouled out, leaving Partizan without guards though leading 65-61 with 3 minutes left. Kaukenas took advantage with a basket, but Bogdanovic fired another bomb. The game was still open even though Partizan led 68-63 with 2 minutes left. Loncar netted a jumper but Kaukenas answered and added 2 from the line. Milojevic, looking tired from rebounding and fighting with Montepaschi's defense, got 2 more points at the beginning of the final minute. Hamilton scored at the other end but Pecile made a mistake and Milojevic went to the foul line with 20 seconds left to boost Partizan's led to 73-69. After a layup scored by Hamilton, single free throws by Loncar and Hamilton, were answered by a pair of good ones from Kaukenas. That left Montepaschi veteran Marcelo Nikola with a chance to win it at the buzzer, but his three-point attempt missed and Partizan booked its second Group C victory.
Wednesday, January 4, 2006