Efes Pilsen took a major step to rejoining the race to win Group B by edging Lietuvos Rytas 90-84 in Istanbul, Turkey on Wednesday. Efes improved to 8-4 and is now one win behind L. Rytas, which leads the standings at 9-3. Maccabi Elite and Unicaja, who are tied for second place at 8-3, can also get a share of the Group B lead if they win their respective games against Le Mans and Cibona on Thursday. Scoonie Penn led the winners with 21 points. Andre Hutson added 20 points on 7-for-9 shooting and 8 rebounds, Drew Nicholas had 16 points, Kenny Gregory got 12 while Loren Woods posted a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds off the Efes bench. Marijonas Petravicius led L. Rytas with 22 points, Hollis Price added 19 while Matt Nielsen scored 10 for the guests. Petravicius and Arturas Jomantas helped the visitors to tie the game at 46-46 at the end of a close first half. Consecutive triples by Price gave the guests their biggest lead, 58-65, late in the third quarter. Nicholas, Woods and an outstanding Penn allowed Efes to regain the lead at 71-70. It all came down to the final two minutes, as Nielsen tied the game at 80-80. Penn sank a jumper and followed Gregory's fade-away shot with free throws to seal the outcome down the stretch.
Efes coach David Blatt surprised everyone by using twin playmakers – Rashad Wright and Penn - in a starting lineup that also featured Ermal Kuqo instead of Week 11 MVP Woods. Chuck Eidson opened the scoring with a five-meter jumper and Petravicius added an uncontested layup for a 0-4 L. Rytas lead. Wright stepped up with a baseline jumper, which Penn followed with a driving layup in a 6-0 Efes run that Hutson capped with free throws. Nielsen shined with a driving layup, but Penn answered from downtown and added a driving basket for an 11-6 Efes edge. Price scored in penetration and then fed Petravicius for back-to-back layups to put Rytas back ahead, 11-13, after a 0-7 run. Hutson sank a close jumper that Petravicius matched with a layup off another pick-and-roll. Hutson scored again, but Mindaugas Lukauskis hit from downtown for a 15-18 L. Rytas edge. Price took over with a put-back layup that Nicholas erased with an acrobatic jumper. Efes kept rotating players to keep its high intensity going. Joao Batista sank an open jumper and then followed Woods's power layup with free throws to give the guests a 20-24 edge after 10 minutes.
Penn beat the shot clock with a corner three-pointer and Woods added a wild dunk to put Efes back ahead, 25-24, early in the second quarter. Eidson sank a four-meter shot that Woods bettered with a left-handed layup – and the free throw that came with it. Kerem Gonlum picked up a loose ball and turned into a power layup, good for a 30-26 Efes lead. Kenan Bajramovic stepped up with 3 free throws, which Gregory erased with a triple. An unstoppable Hutson soon added free throws for a 6-point Efes edge. L. Rytas called timeout and Jomantas stepped up with a power basket followed by Petravicius free throws to get the guests within 35-33. He soon added a tip-in off a midcourt steal by Eidson that forced Efes to stop the game to rethink. Gregory took over with a floating layup, but Bajramovic nailed one from downtown to complete the guests' comeback, 37-38. Nicholas sank his trademark mid-range jumper, but Arturas Jomantas copied him at the other end. Kuqo fed Hutson for a two-handed dunk, but free throws by Jomantas and a triple by Price helped L. Rytas regain the lead, 41-45. Nicholas followed another mid-range shot with a buzzer-beating step-back triple for a 46-46 tie at halftime.
Petravicius scored after the break, but Penn answered to tie the game again, 48-48. L. Rytas had returned to the game with improved aggressiveness, more focused at both ends. Lukauskis made free throws and Nielsen took over with an alley-oop dunk, good for a 48-52 L. Rytas edge. Kuqo found his first points on an easy layup and Hutson provided a highlight with a wild power dunk that tied the game again. Lukauskis silenced a still-excited crowd with a long two-pointer, but Kuqo matched with another basket. L. Rytas kept its momentum going, however, with improved defense and patient offense run by a fully-focused Price. Petravicius made free throws and Price buried one from downtown for a 54-59 L. Rytas margin. Penn tried to change things with an off-balanced driving layup and Hutson added a power basket to keep the crowd involved, 58-59. Petravicius shined with a reverse layup in a 0-6 L. Rytas run that Price capped with another three-pointer, causing Efes to call timeout at 58-65. Woods stepped up with a second-chance basket before free throws by Eidson and another buzzer-beating jumper by Nicholas fixed the score at 62-67 after 30 minutes.
Hutson tried to get Efes going early in the fourth quarter, but L. Rytas had improved its defense against Nicholas right when it mattered. Efes found new alternatives, however, as Hutson banked in a jump hook for a 65-67 deficit. L. Rytas had been scoreless for more than two minutes already, but Nielsen stepped up with free throws. Gregory answered from downtown and Penn buried another three-pointer to put Efes back ahead, 71-70. Eidson fed Jomantas for an easy basket before Price added a driving layup to make it 71-74 for L. Rytas. Hutson paced Efes with a power layup and Nicholas stepped up with a big triple for a 76-75 Efes edge. Nicholas and Woods shined with consecutive blocks on Petravicius, while once again Woods took over with a wild two-handed dunk, good for a 78-85 Efes lead. L. Rytas called timeout, but Gregory scored in transition for an 80-76 score with three minutes remaining. Nielsen sank a jump hook and soon added free throws to tie things at 80-80 tie. But Penn nailed a six-meter jumper and Gregory added a fade-away shot to make L. Rytas call timeout at 84-80 with 41 seconds to go. Gregory came up with a big time block at the other end and Penn sealed the outcome from the free throw line, enough for Efes to add a big win.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008