In a battle between Euroleague Basketball newcomers in Group B, Armani Jeans Milano ruined the party for 11,00 fans in Vilnius, Lithuania by beating host Lietuvos Rytas 59-65 on Wednesday. Armani Jeans improved to 1-1 in the Group B standings while L.Rytas dropped to 0-2. Massimo Bulleri led the winners with 18 points on 6 of 6 free throws, Dante Calabria added 12 and 8 rebounds, Diego Fajardo had 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting while Preston Shumpert scored 10 points for Milano. Simas Jasaitis and Roberts Stelmahers each had 13 points for L.Rytas. It was a close game in the first half, and L.Rytas led 26-17 midway through the second quarter, but Shumpert and Fajardo helped Armani Jeans pull within 31-30 at halftime. Milano held L. Rytas to just 5 points in the third quarter, tying the third lowest scoring output ever by a Euroleague team in one quarter. That allowed three-pointers by Bulleri, Fajardo and Calabria early in the final period to seal the victory.
L.Rytas started the game with a small lineup, an idea that immediately paid off as Slezas scored a three-pointer off a pick-and-roll. Milano fired back with a short jumper by Shumpert and a left-handed layup by Blair. Stelmahers stepped in with a layup for the hosts, but Galanda followed Bulleri's free throws with his own layup. By the time Bulleri fired in a triple, Milano led 7-11 midway through the quarter. The tide shifted as Slezas nailed his second three-pointer and Jasaitis copied him from downtown for a 14-11 L.Rytas lead. Robertas Javtokas added a jump hook while Tomas Delininkaitis slashed for a layup that capped a 11-0 run and gave the hosts a 18-11 lead. Bulleri broke 4 scoreless minutes for Milano with a reverse layup, but the visitors still were down 18-13 after 10 minutes.
L.Rytas kept up its pace in the second quarter as Mindaugas Lukauskis made a driving layup. Fajardo shined at both ends for Milano, however, with a short jumper and blocked shot in succession. Even so, L. Rytas had already improved its shot selection, as Stelmahers fired in a triple from the left wing and Delininkaitis made a four-meter jumper for the biggest lead so far, 26-17. Milano used a timeout to switch to a 2-3 zone defense, then Fajardo and Calabria scored consecutive baskets to keep the guests alive. That started an 0-11 that featured 2 three-pointers by Shumpert, the second from the left corner, and gave Milano a 26-28 lead. L. Rytas reacted as Jasaitis found space for an open three and Delininkaitis made free throws resulting from an offensive rebound to regain for the hosts a halftime lead of 31-30.
Defenses ruled the third quarter, as Giacomo Galanda's go-ahead triple for Milano provided the only points during the first 5 minutes after halftime. L.Rytas played aggressive and powered the offensive boards, but failed to convert its efforts into points. Milano focused on defense, forcing the hosts to take tough shots. Lukauskis missed an open three-pointer and Javtokas an uncontested dunk, the best indicator of the hosts' frustrations on offense. Meanwhile, Bulleri's short jumper boosted Milano's lead to 31-36. It took L.Rytas all of 7 minutes to score finally, on Matthew Nielsen's free throws, but then Stelmahers added a three-pointer to fire up the crowd and pull the hosts within 36-38. Fajardo finished the quarter in style, nailing a five-meter jumper to keep Milano ahead 36-40 after 30 minutes.
Bulleri put Milano fully in charge with a triple from the top and a mid-range jump shot to open the final quarter. With Milano ahead 36-45, Stelmahers tried to change things with his own jumper, but an outstanding Fajardo drilled a big three to push Milano's lead to double digits, 38-48, with 7 minutes to go. The guests kept playing extraordinary defense, while Calabria fired up catch-and-shoot three that almost sealed the outcome at 38-51. Stelmahers answered with a seven-meter bomb to give the hosts some hope, but Milano had already started to play with long possessions, trying to draw fouls to keep its lead. As such, free throws by Bulleri and another triple by a red hot Calabria gave Milano a 42-56 margin with 4 minutes to go. L.Rytas managed to surprise Milano with a very aggressive full-court pressure, allowing Jasaitis and Haris Mujezinovic fueled a quick 11-3 run which made it a six-point game, 53-59, with under 2 minutes remaining. The hosts ran out of time, however, as Jasaitis and House missed desperation shots in crunch time, while Galanda and Bulleri made free throws to seal a well-deserved first victory for Milano.
Wednesday, November 9, 2005