It was far from easy, but Maccabi Tel Aviv practically punched its ticket to the Top 16 from Group B on Thursday when it came back on the road to win 80-89 over last-place Buducnost in Podgorica. Maccabi's record improved to 6-7 and it preserved exclusive hold on fifth place, but it may still have to avoid a big loss to Zalgiris next week in their final regular season game at Tel Aviv to be certain. Montepaschi (5-8) and Zalgiris (5-8) could forge a three-way tie, in which case the point differentials between all three would decide which gets the automatic berth that goes with fifth place. On Thursday, Maccabi was led in scoring by Quincy Lewis with 18 points off the bench, including several key ones as his team pulled away in that fourth quarter. Nikola Vujcic added 17, Beno Udrih 12 and Markus Goree and Huseyin Besok nailed 11 each for the winners. Bojan Bakic and Zarko Cabarkapa paced Buducnost with 16 points each, Gavrilo Pajovic contributed 13 and John Brown added 11. Buducnost's record fell to 2-11.
Buducnost coach Miodrag Baletic surprised by starting young power forward Nikola Bulatovic appeared in place of his team's top contributor, John Brown. After some nervous minutes, Buducnost started to play smoothly, and thanks to a series of great three-pointers by Bojan Bakic (3 of 4 in the first quarter), the Montenegrian team was always ahead. Bakic ended the first quarter with 16 points while the rest of his team contributed 8. Maccabi had many problems and Blatt had to call a timeout after consecutive Buducnost fastbreaks made it 20-16. But the scoreboard did not change drastically, and after 10 minutes the hosts could be satisfied with the 24-22 lead.
The worst was yet to come for Maccabi, as Buducnost would play its best minutes in the second quarter. Zarko Cabarkapa, Bulatovic, Brown and Gavrilo Pajovic were the perfect relievers for Bakic, and after some really spectacular plays, Buducnost's advantage increased to 9 points, 48-39. When youngsters Ivan Koljevic and Aleksandar Pavlovic stepped on court, the hosts went on with their strong rhythm. On the other side, a three by Derrick Sharp cut the deficit down to 6 points, 48-42, but it was clear that Maccabi needed to talk things over in the locker room during the break.
After resumption, Maccabi managed to get back in the game, mainly thanks to a good leadership by Beno Udrih, plus Marcus Goree and Huseyin Besok's points. In minute 25, the guests jumped ahead at 57-58, and when 2 minutes later the lead had increased to 57-62 it looked like things were going back to where they belonged for Maccabi. But the hosts, led by Cabarkapa, stroked enough shots to finish the quarter with a 10-2 run for a new 67-65 edge after 30 minutes.
Buducnost's dream of beating a big team in its last Euroleague home game started to vanish at the beginning of the last quarter as Maccabi's defense held the host scoreless for 5 minutes Lewis, meanwhile, had taken over the scoring for the guests, whoe forged an eigh-point lead, 67-75, that would be the basis of the final victory. When Cabarkapa was fouled out after a charging call, it was clear that Maccabi would take the win to Tel Aviv. Despite that evidence, however, Buducnost kept on struggling and managed to pull within 4 points twice at 71-75 and 75-79. A basket by Vujcic,who scored 10 points in the last quarter, put Maccabi in the clear finally at 75-83.
Thursday, February 6, 2003