Efes Pilsen protected its home court and got in the win column of Group B with a back-and-forth 80-70 decision over visiting Armani Jeans Milano on Thursday in Istanbul. Efes evened its record at 1-1 while Milano dropped to 0-2. Efes used a 16-0 run bridging the first two quarters to take over the scoreboard and shook off any Milano comeback attempts late in the game. Drew Nicholas led five Efes scorers into double figures with 16 points. Kenny Gregory followed with 13, Serkan Erdogan with 12, Andre Hutson with 11 and Ermal Kuqo with 10. Just as important was the hosts' 35-26 advantage in rebounds, with Woods and Nicholas pulling 7 boards each. Massimo Bulleri scored a game-high 18 points for Milano, including 5 in a 0-7 start for the visitors. Reece Gaines followed him with 13 points while Ansu Sesay had 11 and Cheyne Gadson 10. Travis Watson pulled 11 rebounds for Milano.
Milano made an impressive 0-7 start to the game with a layup by Travis Watson and then 5 points on a pair of shots Bulleri in a span of just 90 seconds. But it didn't take Efes much more time to respond with an even bigger run. Kerem Gonlum started and ended it with inside shots, while Nicholas and Gregory also scored baskets for a quick 8-7 Efes advantage. Bulleri put Milano back in front as offenses got the better of defenses and the scoreboard numbers went back and forth. Ansu Sesay's triple had the guests in front 11-14 and a jumper by Reece Gaines kept them ahead 15-18. Efes put the finishing touches on the quarter with a 5-0 run in which Nicholas and Hutson split the scoring and game their team a 20-18 lead after 10 minutes.
Little did anone know that Efes had started a game-breaking run. In addition to the last 5 points in the first quarter, the hosts rolled off the first 11 of the second as Ermal Kuqo, Ender Arslan and Serkan Erdogan joined Hutson and Nicholas, who had a three-pointer, in pushing the difference to 31-18. Watson and Cheyne Gadson finally broke through the Efes defense for baskets that steadied the guests. Erdogan rained a triple, however, to maintain a wide 38-22 advantage, the highest lead yet. Milano was able to play even for a couple minutes, but Nicholas discouraged the visitors with a triple on the buzzer to carry Efes into the locker room with a commanding 46-28 advantage.
Nothing changed early in the third quarter, as Efes kept dominating the defensive board, taking advantage of that to run the break as often as possible. Meanwhile, Milano struggled to score and did not manage to find second-chance options. By the time Loren Woods scored again, Efes had made it a 20-point game, 52-32. Bulleri and Gaines trying to ignit the Milano comeback, but Efes run its offense through Erdogan and an outstanding Gregory, who were now unstoppable. Gregory stepped up with a layup to restore a 21-point Efes lead, 56-35. Milano finally found its rhythm in offense, as Efes started to use long possessions to keep its lead alibe. Sesay hit a jumper to bring Milano within 66-50 but Erdogan answered from downtown for a 69-50 Efes lead. A final basket by Cheyne Gadson fixed the score at 69-62 after three quarters.
Milano found a go-to guy in Herve Toure, who changed the game completely, giving the guests the aggressivity they needed. Efes was limited to just 2 points in the next 6 minutes. Meanwhile, a 2-10 run gave Milano some hope, 71-62, after a layup by Watson. Milano had improved its defense, but Efes missed too many open shots and committed many turnovers, too. Efes finally regained its momentum by improving its defense, playing with its most athletic team on court. Nicholas stepped up with a layup while Woods added free throws to give the hosts some fresh air, 75-62, with 3 minutes to go. Armani kept attacking the basket with Sesay, Bulleri and Gaines, but Hutson and Gregory answered in the other end to make Efes keep a safe cushion. Efes had sealed the outcome when Hutson buried a jumper already in the final minute, as a three-pointer by Sesay happened to be too little, too late for the guests. All Efes fans went back home with a smile, while Milano needs to start winning right away to keep its Top 16 hopes alive.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007