Dragan Labovic saved his best game for crunch time scoring 23 points to lead BC FMP to an 88-70 victory over Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem to clinch a spot in the ULEB Cup semifinals. FMP overturned a 9-point defeat from the first game and avenged a narrow loss to Jerusalem in the ULEB Cup semis three seasons ago. Coach Vlada Vujoicic's squad will face Lithuanian champion Lietuvos Rytas in the semis with the first game set for the Siemens Arena in Vilnius next Tuesday. FMP outrebounded Hapoel 9-3 in the first quarter to build a 27-18 lead after 10 minutes, but a 2-14 second-period run carried Hapoel back. The game remained close with neither team taking a meaningful lead until the fourth quarter. But then Jerusalem suffered a monumental meltdown and Labovic and co. capitalized. FMP's teenage star scored 5 during an 11-0 run to break the game open. Timmy Bowers scored 4 points to bring Hapoel back, but the visitors missed their next 5 shots and FMP cruised to victory. Labovic was 4-for-4 from beyond the arc and matched his season-high with 23 points to lead FMP. Zoran Erceg added 13 points, Ivan Zigeranovic 11 and Predrag Samardziski had 7 points, 7 rebounds, and important defensive presence off the bench. Mario Austin posted 24 to lead Hapoel, but scored only 7 in the second half and finished with just 4 rebounds. Meir Tapiro scored 13 and grabbed 4 steals, but was also charged with 6 turnovers. Bowers added 12 and Guy Pniny scored all of his season-high 10 in the first half.
Hapoel won the opening tip, but quickly lost the ball as Dror Hagag – starting in place of Ed Cota for the first time all season – dropped it out of bounds. Nevertheless aggressive defense helped the visitors get the ball back as Austin scored the game's first points. Bojan Krstovic put FMP on the board, but Tapiro hit a triple at the other end. Krstovic slipped past Hagag on the other end and as Hapoel's offense started to get sloppy, Zigeranovic put FMP up 6-5 from the line. Erceg's bank shot and a Krstovic fast-break bucker increased the FMP lead to 12-7 before Jurica Golemac drilled a three for Jerusalem. Samardziski scored on the offensive glass to keep the hosts on top, but Austin continued to own the paint with a power slam. Aleksandar Rasic's first points came from downtown to put FMP up 5. Pniny answered the same way, but Erceg came right back to make it 23-18. Erceg added two more from the line and Samardziski corrected Rasic's miss to cap the first quarter at 27-18.
Austin started the second period with a steal, but Tapiro turned the ball over in transition. But Hapoel continued to give more on defense and soon the offense came too as Tapiro and Austin scored to cut the gap to 5. FMP's efforts to keep Hapoel from running resulted in early fouls. Pniny rifled in a three with Marko Djerasimovic in his face and Austin scored his 12th point to cap a 0-9 run that knotted the game at 27-27. Milos Teodosic scored FMP's first basket of the period after 3+ minutes, but Terrence Morris drilled a three to put the visitors back on top. Tapiro sent Pniny for a fast-break slam wrapping the Hapoel stretch at 2-14. Teodosic tied the game again with a triple, but Austin's domination inside resulted in another score. The pace started to slow and both teams missed some easy shots before Branko Cvetkovic tied the game at 35-35. Tapiro fed Austin for a slam with a minute to go, but Labovic registered 5 straight points, helping FMP to a 40-38 halftime advantage.
Tapiro started the second half with a triple, but back-to-back buckets by Zigeranovic and Erceg restored the FMP lead. Bowers completed a three-point play for his first points to tie the score at 46-46. After no fouls were called on some pushing between players, FMP coach Vujoicic was called for a technical, after which Austine drilled a triple to put Hapoel back on top. But on the very next play, Rasic answered with a three. Austin grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul from Zigeranovic, but made only one, allowing FMP to keep its lead. Labovic popped in a triple and then added teo free throws on the next trip down court to make it 59-53. The game was stopped briefly after Zigeranovic was hurt going for a rebound and the break seemed to help Hapoel, as Bowers nailed a three and Labovic threw up a bad shot to end the third period with FMP up 59-56, but still trailing by 6 in the aggregate score.
Djordje Micic was awarded his first points on a goal-tending call before Tapiro and Teodosic traded threes. Erceg added another from downtown to make it 67-59 to the delight of the crowd. After Austin missed, Labovic rifled in a three from the corner to take its first double-digit lead of the night, 70-59. Bowers's dunk was canceled for traveling and Labovic scored inside at the other end as FMP took over. Tapiro drove the middle and hit a runner, but Labovic's triple bounced high and rolled in. Bowers then committed a loose-ball foul going for the rebound and Rasic cut through the Hapoel defense to put the hosts up 15 midway through the fourth. Bowers brought Hapoel back with two free throws and then a steal and slam. The momentum remained with FMP with a Samardziski tip and Cvetkovic's basket in transition to restore the 15-point gap. Jerusalem tried to regroup with a timeout, but nothing seemed to help. The pressure was clearly affecting the visitors as Tapiro missed a wide-open layup. FMP began to waste time and Hapoel panicked even more, forcing up ill-advised three-point attempts. Labovic nailed one more triple to put FMP up 20 and the crowd let him hear it as FMP celebrated a spot in the semifinals.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007