Benetton not only avoided elimination, but kept its Group G fate in its hands by rolling past visiting Efes Pilsen by 70-59 at home in Treviso, Italy on Thursday. Benetton and Efes have now the same record, 3-2, a victory behind Group leader AEK. However, due to the size of its victories over Efes and AEK, Benetton can advance with a victory in its final Top 16 game at winless Prokom Trefl Sopot. Likewise, Efes has to win against AEK at home in Istanbul next week in order to survive. Ramunas Siskauskas scored 15 of his 24 points in the second half to lead Benetton to victory. The only other double-figure scorer for the winners was Massimo Bulleri, who collected 13 points, while Marlon Garnett and Marcus Goree chipped in 9 apiece. Willie Solomon bagged 20 for Efes Pilsen, while Goran Nikolic contributed 14. The victory avenged a record-setting defeat with the fewest points scored in Top 16 history that Benetton suffered at the hands of Efes earlier in the round.
Paccelis Morlende started at point guard for Benetton, replacing Bulleri, who was on the bench with the flu. Nikolic's mid-range jumper opened the scoring for Efes, but both man-to-man defenses were so tough and aggressive that Benetton needed 3 minutes to score tie, 2-2, thanks to Goree. Midway through the first quarter, the score remained low, 6-6, with Denis Marconato providing points for Benetton. But there were no easy shots, even though Ermal Kuqo of Efes assisted Kaya Peker cutting through the paint. Bulleri came off the bench then to make a pull-up jumper and feed Garnett in the open court, giving Benetton its first advantage of the night, 12-10, after 7 minutes. Solomon soon tied with a drive in traffic but Ramunas Siskauskas from the foul line extended Benetton's margin to 16-12, and Goree raised the lead again, to 19-14, from downtown on the first-quarter buzzer.
Siskauskas gave a 22-14 margin to Benetton from the three-point land early in the second quarter, forcing an Efes timeout. While its zone defense tamed the visitors, Benetton kept its run rolling with back-to-back buckets from behind the arc by David Bluthenthal and Goree, good for a 27-14 margin. Efes found the way to attack the zone, climbing within 31-24, behind 4 points by Nikolic. Henry Domercant converted a basket-plus-free throw play, with Benetton back to individual defense, and Kuqo capped a 6-15 run for the guests by feeding Domercant to make it 33-29 after 17 minutes. Bulleri sounded the charge for Benetton from beyond the arc, and Kuqo was called for a technical foul which Garnett used to convert his attempts from the foul line. On the following play, Solomon picked up his third foul on a charging call. Bulleri gave back a double-digit cushion to Benetton, 40-29, as the first half finished.
Solomon boosted Efes after halftime by scoring 6 points in a row to pull within 40-35. Siskauskas broke the ice from downtown for Benetton, however, giving confidence back to the hosts. Their head-to-head duel followed with Solomon scoring twice more from the foul line and Siakuskas from the corner, making it 45-37. Alper Yilmaz stole and ran the court for an easy layup to cut the lead further, to 45-40, after 26 minutes. With the defense as protagonists again, Efes got within 45-42 on free throws by Niksa Prkacin. Again, Siskauksas saved Benetton, scoring from downtown, but Kuqo added a layup and a free throw to keep Efes as close as 48-45 after 30 minutes. Solomon scoring 12 of his team's 16 points in the third quarter, while Siskauskas collecting all 8 of Benetton's.
Nikolic put Efes Pilsen closer than ever in the game, 48-47, to start the last quarter, but Siskauskas was still hot and pushed Benetton to 50-47 with shot from the baseline. Bulleri pushed his team further ahead, 56-49, by scoring 4 points in a row, and the momentum rolled with Benetton when Andrea Bargnani nailed back-to-back triples, giving the hosts a double-digit margin, 62-49. Bargnani also worked on defense blocking Prkacin, while Bulleri raised the lead again from the foul line to 64-49 as the fans in Treviso went crazy. Solomon didn't give up and hit a three-pointer, cutting the deficit down to 65-53. Nikolic from the high post nailed a jumper to cut the difference further, to 67-57 with less than 3 minutes left. With both teams looking for point advantages in case of tiebreakers, Garnett popped in a triple from the corner and Bargnani grabbed a pair of rebounds to push the hosts to a final 11-point margin, good enough for Benetton to be safe in any future ties.
Thursday, March 24, 2005