With his team behind and its Top 16 chances fading, Horace Jenkins poured in 15 fourth-quarter points to lift AEK to a thrilling 68-78 road win against Pau-Orthez in Group A on Wednesday. That fourth-quarter turnaround may prove the key to survival for AEK, whose record improves to 5-6, good for a fourth-place tie with Partizan with just 3 regular season games remaining. Meanwhile, the home defeat drops Pau's record to 4-7, pushing the French champs to the bottom of Group A beside Union Olimpija and Lottomatica Roma. Jenkins finished with 20 points and 4 assists for the winners, while Quadre Lollis added 11 and 9 rebounds and Nikos Hatzis added 10. For Pau, Mate Skelin and Laurent Foirest led the way with 13 points apiece while Dragan Lukovski added 11.
Skelin was the protagonist of the opening minutes, scoring 8 of Pau's first 10 points thanks to tough moves under the basket and free throws. AEK's Andreas Glyniadakis had to leave the floor early due to a finger injury, but Nikos Zisis hit a free throw and then Panteleimon Papaiokeim put AEK ahead, 5-6. The struggle under both baskets was titanic, and Skelin's dunk gave Pau back the lead at 9-8. The game was dominated by defense, as Pau's 2-3 zone confused AEK. On the other end, Cyril Julian and Fabien Dubos combined for 4 more free throws for a 17-11 score after 10 minutes. Up to that point, the referees had called 14 fouls for 16 free throws, strong evidence of the tough defense being played by both sides.
The opening minutes of the second quarter were owned by one player: Blagota Sekulic, whose scoring ignited AEK to eventually evened the scoreboard at 19-19 following a basket by Papaiokeim. Pau responded with 5 straight points from Foirest, including an open triple, to push the lead to 24-19. Sekulic replied also with his own triple to keep AEK close, while his teammates tried hard to contain Skelin in the paint. Skelin only managed a couple of free throws as Jenkins scored his first points from behind the arc for AEK with a minute to go in the period, 31-27. The half ended with Nikos Hatzis dropping a jumper at the buzzer to pull AEK within a basket, 31-29.
Coming out of the break, tough defense was the rule. Julian's hook made it 35-29 but Zisis and Sekulic hit 4 straight points for 35-33 to keep AEK on pace. Frederic Fauthoux nailed a triple that beat the 24-second clock and raised the Pau fans from their seats, but AEK stayed close thanks to a fastbreak dunk by Jenkins and a Hatzis triple, keeping the guests within 40-38. AEK swtiched to a pressure defense which gave Pau-Orthez serious difficulties. The French team managed to keep their slight lead, as only Lollis was effective then for AEK. Lukovski dropped in 2 more free throws at the end of the quarter to give Pau a 51-48 edge after 30 minutes.
Jenkins took the game into the palm of his hand in the fourth quarter. The AEK guard had only scored 5 points up to that point, but he came up with big baskets and found open teammates as AEK stormed in front. Christos Tapoutos tied the game at 59-59 and Zisis nailed a quick layup for a 59-61 AEK lead. Pau was absolutely lost on court, and Jenkins took advantage of Lukovski's turnover to put the guests ahead 61-68. Lukovski tried to resist with a three-point play but Jenkins banked in a three-point shot to make the score 65-71. Time was running out and Pau was not able to cut the deficit. Jenkins blocked a Lukovski shot and then went in for a dunk on the fast break to give AEK a double-digit lead, 65-75, with less than a minute left. Nate Erdmann bagged a triple but it was too late for Pau to come back and avoid a 68-78 loss, though the point difference over its two games with AEK still belongs to the French team, which won by 12 in Athens, should there be a head-to-head tie later between them.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004