Olympiacos survived a major scare at home to remain in the hunt for first place in Group A when it turned back visiting Le Mans 80-76 in a thriller on Thursday in Athens. Olympiacos raised its record to 9-2, a single victory behind first-place Tau Ceramica, while Le Mans fell to 3-8, endangering its Top 16 chances. It was not for lack of trying by the guests, who never backed down and held their share of leads throughout the game, the last at 71-72 in the next-to-last minute. That however, was when Alex Acker was in the process of scoring 6 points in under 45 seconds, with his last jumper putting the Reds in front to stay thanks to late free throws by Henry Domercant and Panagiotis Vasilopoulos. Domercant led the Reds with 17 points while Andrija Zizic added 16. Le Mans was led by Tyson Wheeler with 20 points and 9 assists, while Eric Campbell added 20 and Sandro Nicevic 13.
The game got underway with Olympiacos bursting in front 6-0 thanks to a couple of baskets by Zizic. Le Mans came out empty, missing its first 5 shots until Nicevic finally got the guests on the scoreboard with a jumper. But when Ryan Stack knocked down a dunk and Penn slashed to the basket, the hosts had a 10-4 lead. Wheeler then loaded his gun and with 6 consecutive points pulled Le Mans within 12-10. Henry Domercant split a pair of free throws and then Wheeler fed Eric Campbell who converted a three-point play and tied the game. Stack restored a 15-13 advantage for the Reds, but it disappeared as the unstoppable Wheeler poured in 5 more points for a 15-18 Le Mans lead. The Reds' defense was no threat and Le Mans was now in charge, so despite a three-pointer by center Giannis Bourousis, Le Mans held a 20-22 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Zizic opened the second quarter with a layup, but on the other end Campbell ruled with back-to-back dunks. When Yannick Bokolo drained a triple, the guests were ahead 26-29. Olympiacos could not find any rhythm offensively, being one-dimensional and dependent on Zizic, and soon Le Mans widened the margin to 28-35 behind a six-point eruption by Nicevic. Reds head coach Pini Gerhson was forced to call a timeout during which fan favorite Sofoklis Schortsanitis came off the bench. Zizic tried to shift the momentum on a basket and free throws, to which Schortsianitis soon added a basket underneath to pull the hosts within 34-35 and bring the crowd to its feet. It was Wheeler, though, who took the first half's last word, slashing for a layup that gave Le Mans a 35-37 advantage at intermission.
Olympiacos started the second half determined to push the tempo and rushed ahead behind a dunk by Zizic. Domercant picked up the scoring slack, nailing a triple and scoring on the fourth assist by Zizic to keep the Reds in front, 44-42. Le Mans anchored its offensive plays in the paint, where Campbell and Nicevic created havoc, and went on a 4-8 run that silenced the boisterous Olympiacos fans. At that point, the frontcourt tandem of the guests had already contributed 27 points by making 12 of their 16 shots. A fan disturbance delayed the game at that point. Eventually, the atmosphere cleared and the game got underway with Pape-Philippe Amagou converting 3 free throws. Schortsianitis retorted with a monstrous dunk, yet Wheeler ignited a 0-7 spurt that Amagou punctuated from beyond the arc, as Le Mans grabbed a 56-60 lead after three quarters.
At the outset of the fourth quarter, Domercant stole the ball from Amagou and finished the break with authority. Kenny Gregory answered back, yet Domercant again drilled a three-pointer and captain Manolis Papamakarios scored to put the Reds ahead, 63-62. Over the next 2 minutes, Olympiacos was held scoreless and Le Mans vaulted ahead, 63-68, as Wheeler and Nebojsa Bogavac caught fire from downtown. After a timeout, Stack buried a jumper for Olympiacos, while Gregory's turnover led to a basket by Papamakarios that made it a one-point game, 67-68. Wheeler contributed yet another assist, finding Campbell for a dunk, yet Alex Acker came up big when it mattered the most. He started with a steal and continued by scoring 6 points in an inspired 8-2 run that vaulted the Reds in front, 75-72, with 1 minute left. Le Mans coach Vincent Collet called for a timeout. Wheeler flashed his way to the basket for 2 poitns, while at the other end Scoonie Penn made only 1 of 2 free throws. Wheeler, though clearly the man of the match, failed to tie the game with his last shot attempt, and the guests chose to put Panagiotis Vasilopoulos on the foul line. He hit both free throws for a 78-74 advantage, and though Campbell scored a bucket off an offensive rebound, Le Mans could not escape with a priceless away victory, as Domercant made 2 more free throws to seal the win for the Reds.
Thursday, January 11, 2007