Hoping to be playing in the same city six months from now, CSKA opened up its 2004-05 Euroleague season with a thrilling 80-79 home victory in Moscow over Benetton Treviso in Group C on Wednesday night. For CSKA the win was a sigh of relief in the kickoff to a season the Moscow club hopes will end in a Euroleague championship in front of its home fans at the Final Four next May. Martin Muursepp's free throws with 37 seconds left sealed the win after Benetton had erased most of a 12-point CSKA lead with under 4 minutes left. Antonio Granger led the winners wth 19 points, including 5 first-half three-pointers. Muursepp had 15 points and Marcus Brown 11, while Demos Dikoudis pulled 11 rebounds. A trio of three-pointers down the stretch from Marcus Goree almost rallied Benetton. Goree led the visitors with 17 points, while Marlon Garnett added 14, Massimo Bulleri 13 and Denis Marconato 10 plus 11 rebounds.
After Benetton center Denis Marconato started the scoring with a turn-around jumper on the first possession of the game, CSKA jumped out to a quick 8-2 leaded behind consecutive three-pointers from Marcus Brown and Antonio Granger. Two free throws from CSKA big man David Andersen forced the Italian club's first timeout with just under 3 minutes gone. CSKA’s shooting then went cold, however, and Benetton reacted with a 0-7 run highlighted by Marlon Garnett's three-pointer from the corner to lead 8-9 with 4:40 left in the quarter. Despite strong offensive rebounding, CSKA just couldn't convert its shots, and head coach Dusan Ivkovic was forced to call his own timeout after turnover and a breakaway layup by guard Massimo Bulleri gave Benetton an 11-8 lead. CSKA began stroking shots again. Granger knocked down a couple more triples himself and Holden his first, and though Garnett got one back for Benetton, CSKA took a 20-18 lead after one quarter.
CSKA came out hot in the second quarter with Granger connecting on another long-range shot and Muuressep attacking down low. With 5 minutes left in the quarter, the home team had pushed its lead to 9 points, 35-26, with a basket by center Alexei Savrasenko on a pick-and-roll with guard Teodoras Papaloukas. But Benetton stayed within striking distance with three-pointers from Garnett and Andrea Bargnani. Unstoppable now, Granger answered back from long-range, while Papaloukas began to smother Garnett on the defensive end, and with 2 minutes left in the half, CSKA had pushed its lead to 42-29. Papoloukas provided a spark of the bench for CSKA with deft passing, while Benetton stayed close thanks to the outside shooting and penetration of Bulleri. Still, despite alternating Benetton defenses, CSKA went into the half with a 44-35 lead.
Benetton managed to stay within striking distance in the third quarter, which as Sergei Monya made his first appearance for CSKA. Monya stroked consecutive three-pointers from the left wing, giving his team a 55-42 lead. But again it was Bulleri keeping Benetton close with his long-range shooting, and Joey Beard offered some stellar post play off the bench for the visitors. CSKA forward Dimos Dikudis snared an offensive rebound, put it back in with a foul shot extra and CSKA's lead returned to 11 points. With a minute left, Monya knocked down his third triple of the quarter to preserve a 64-56 CSKA advantage after 30 minutes.
Despite holding leads of up to 12 points with under 4 minutes left, CSKA couldn't shake Benetton in the fourth quarter, setting the stage for a drama-filled finish. The visitors shaved the CSKA lead to 76-70 with 2 minutes remaining, but Murresepp answered back with a layup in traffic to put the home team back up 78-70. Goree almost became the hero of the game for Benetton, answering right back with a three-pointer from the right corner. On the next possession, Goree blocked Muuresepp’s layup attempt and went the other way to drill another triple, cutting the CSKA advantage to 78-76 with 45 seconds remaining. Muuresepp drew a foul on his next drive and made both free throws with 37 seconds left to make it an 80-76 scoreboard, forcing Benetton to score twice. Defense now sustained CSKA, as Holden hounded Bulleri into a bad pass that led to a 24-second violation for Benetton with 11.8 seconds remaining. Trying to run out the clock, CSKA lost the ball out of bounds with 3 seconds remaining, allowing Goree to drain a 30-footer at the buzzer. But Muuresepp’s free throws proved crucial, allowing CSKA to escape with an 80-79 win.
Wednesday, November 3, 2004