DKV Joventut advanced to the Top 16 and soared to second place in Group B on Thursday with a 98-92 win over Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv on Thursday night in Badalona, Spain. The game came down to the wire, but the hosts outscored Maccabi 16-3 in the final minutes and the Israeli champs missed 3 of 4 free throws in the final 11 seconds. Joventut improved to 7-4 and took a one-win lead over Maccabi in the group standings. It was the fifth win in six games for coach Aito Garcia Reneses's squad. Since Joventut has already beaten Partizan and Unicaja twice, it has mathematically made it to the next round. Maccabi lost a nail-biter on the road for the second week in a row. Rudy Fernandez came off the bench to lead Joventut with 21 points. Elmer Bennett had 15 points and 6 assists, Charles Gaines added 14 points and 8 rebounds, and Robert Archibald and Lubos Barton scored 13 apiece. Barton also dished 7 assists. Simas Jasaitas drilled five three-pointers on his way to a game-high 24 for Maccabi. Nikola Vujcic finished with 20 points, Derrick Sharp 16 and Lior Eliyahu 12 in a losing effort.
Maccabi won the opening tip, but it was Joventut that got on the board first when Ferran Laviña converted a three-point play in transition. Vujcic scored Maccabi's first points on the next possession and the visitors soon took their first lead, 5-6, after a Jasaitas triple. Laviña's circus shot restored Joventut's advantage, but Jamie Arnold quickly answered with a hook. The lead continued to switch hands on nearly every possession as a speedy, but sometimes sloppy game developed. Maccabi looked to pull away with a Will Bynum steal and one-handed jam and Sharp's triple, which gave the visitors an 11-17 lead. Three-pointers by Paco Vazquez and Rudy brought Joventut back within 2, but Eliyahu's first points followed by a Vujcic offensive rebound and score made it 20-26 after 10 minutes.
Vazquez and Bennett drilled threes early in the second period and Rudy's free throw got the hosts within 27-28, but Jasaitas and Vujcic restored a 5-point Maccabi lead. Bennett and Sharp exchanged triples, but Joventut couldn't get the stops it needed on defense to get back on top. Jasaitas drilled his third three and Vujcic dunked after an Eliyahu miss to put Maccabi up 36-44. However Bennett and Barton connected from downtown and a Gaines follow-dunk tied the score at 46-46. Arnold showed his familiarity with the Badalona baskets, sinking a pair from the line to put Maccabi back on top and Jasaitas added three the hard way to put Maccabi over the 50-point mark. After a Barton jumper, Sharp beat the buzzer with a three to send the teams to the lockers with Maccabi ahead 48-54.
Maccabi started the second half strong as Vujcic freed up Eliyahu for a slam. Vujcic then drew a foul inside from Andrew Betts and sank both free throws to give the Israeli champs their first double-digit lead. Joventut's first points of the period came on a pretty Bennett-to-Gaines alley-oop, which seemed to give the hosts some momentum. Barton stole the ball from Bynum and sent Rudy for a slam after which Maccabi coach Neven Spahija took a timeout. The hosts' comeback continued though with a Bennett jumper and Archibald's three-point play that trimmed the gap to 57-59. Vujcic scored for Maccabi, but Yotam Halperin then committed an unsportsmanlike foul on Rudy, which allowed Joventut to tie the score at 61-61 after another Bennett-to-Gaines alley-oop slam. Vujcic scored inside again, but Bennett answered from downtown to give the hosts their first lead since the opening minutes. Jasaitas made sure that the green team's lead would be short-lived with a triple. Arnold added a basket-plus-foul to give Maccabi a 5-point lead. But Bynum turned the ball over for the seventh time and then committed his fourth foul, which saw him take a spot on the bench. Archibald and in turn Betts made free throws to close the gap to 68-69. Vujcic and Sharp from downtown put Maccabi up 6 and after Marcelinho Huertas scored his first point of the game from the line, Sharp ended the period with a pair of free throws for a 71-76 lead heading into the final quarter.
Bennett and Sharp started the fourth quarter exchanging jumpers before Vujcic set Jasaitas up for a slam. Archibald drew Joventut back within 76-80 with three free throws, but perhaps more importantly drew Vujcic's third and fourth fouls along the way. Rudy's layup cut the gap to 2, but Yaniv Green, playing for Vujcic, scored his first basket for Maccabi. Jasaitas drilled one more three – his fifth – for a 78-85 lead midway through the final period. After a Huertas layup, Maccabi's Lithuanian forward corrected a Green miss to keep the visitors in control. Barton drove the baseline for a basket, but an Eliyahu basket inside with two-and-a-half minutes to play was like a dagger to Joventut's hopes. However Gaines brought the hosts within 5 and Green committed an offensive foul to give Joventut reason to believe. Barton missed a three-point attempt, but Halperin fouled Rudy on the rebound and his free throws made it a 3-point game. Vujcic set up Eliyahu inside, but Archibald took him down with a foul. The rookie forward sank both. However Barton answered with a three to make it 89-91 with a minute to go. Halperin lost the ball and Badalona raced down for a Rudy slam to tie the game with 40 seconds left. Halperin drove for a layup and missed and Archibald was the first to the other side for a wide-open slam and a Joventut lead. Maccabi went inside to Vujcic, who was fouled with 11 seconds remaining. But the All-Euroleague center missed the first. Joventut beat the Maccabi trap for a Rudy layup and a 3-point lead. Joventut sent Sharp to the line and he also missed the first. He then missed the second on purpose, but Rudy grabbed the rebound and with it guaranteed a well-deserved win for the hosts which made Joventut keep fighting for Euroleague glory in the Top 16.
Thursday, January 11, 2007