Leading almost from opening tipoff to closing buzzer, Ulker of Istanbul routed Virtus in Bologna on Thursday, 68-88, to almost put a lock on second place in Group C. Now 8-4, Ulker can only finish other than second if it loses the final two games at the same time that Real Madrid wins both. Despite the debut of new guard Eric Murdock, Virtus fell apart in the second half and fell to 6-6 and a tie for third place with Madrid. Ulker was led by captain Harun Erdenay, who sparked his team's key first-half escape and finished with 18 points. Three more Ulker players followed in double digits: Joseph Blair with 17 points, Melvin Booker with 16 and Haluk Yildirim with 13. Virtus got 18 points from Dejan Koturovic, 15 from Murdock, 12 from Alessandro Frosini and 11 from Matjaz Smodis.
Both teams started with good offense, combining to make 6 baskets in the first 6 possessions, as the score was balanced through the first minutes of the game. Virtus tried to take a lead running the break to a 9-6 edge, but that's the moment Ulker chose for its big run behind Erdenay. The visitors tallied a 2-15 partial, with Erdenay racking up 13 points himself by the end of the quarter. Ulker controlled the rebounds, and except for Smodis, Virtus did not find any other offensive solutions. Ulker took its biggest lead at 11-21. Mladen Sekularac helped Virtus reduce that with a three-point play that closed the quarter with guests ahead 17-25.
Virtus came back with a 7-1 run at the beginning of the second quarter to pull within 24-26 as Frosini started playing tough inside and scoring key points. Virtus switched to 2-3 zone defense, but Ulker had good three-point percentages as Serkan Erdogan and Haluk Yildirim dropped in 3 of 5 attempts to give back to Ulker a double-digit lead, 28-38. Virtus tried to stay into the game with cKoturovic, who piled up 12 points in the second period, but Ulker had good ball movement Booker, who had 11 points by halftime. By that time, the visitors were still in control with 39-49 showing on the scoreboard.
German Scarone lit up the PalaMalaguti arena with a three soon after halftime, but Ulker didn't lose the control of the tempo. The guests kept the lead thanks to Virginius Praskevicius, and even broadened it to 12 points at 43-55 before Murdock made his presence felt. The new Virtus point scored 5 points in a row, reducing the gap to 7 at 50-57. But Ulker slowed down the rhythm and with Erdenay and Gojovic's baskets controlled the game enough to take one of its biggest advantages, 53-66, after 30 minutes.
Milan Goljovic nailed a huge three-pointer that broke the back of Virtus at the beginning of the last period. Against what was now a 16-point lead, 53-69, Virtus had no ready answers. Ulker was clearly owner of the game, and the home fans were showing their displeasure 5 minutes before the finish. Ulker ran the lead to 20 points and held it there to the final buzzer for one of the widest road wins of any team in the Euroleague this season.
Thursday, January 30, 2003