Tadija Dragicevic scored when he was needed the most to give Red Star an 81-71 win over Benetton Tamoil Treviso at Pionir Arena in Belgrade, Serbia, in the first leg of the teams’ Last 32 round series. Dragicevic scored 7 consecutive points early in the first quarter to give Red Star a sizable early advantage and added a second 7-point burst late in the fourth to protect it. Red led throughout the game, going up 16-7 thanks to Dragicevic’s early heroics. The lead remained in the 10-point area for much of the evening, settling at 45-36 at halftime and 60-49 after 30 minutes. But when Benetton big man Mario Austin heated up from downtown, the visitors clawed their way back to 70-69 with three minutes to go. However it was Dragicevic to the rescue, allowing Red Star to keep the lead and regain a margin that leaves both teams hope for the second leg. Dragicevic finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds, while Omar Cook added 17 points and 8 assists and Mladen Sljivancanin had 10 to lead Red Star. Austin finished with 24 points, Reece Gaines added 14, Pops Mensah-Bonsu had 11 points and 12 rebounds and John Lucas scored 10.
Red Star came out on fire as Dragicevic had 7 straight points and 2 steals during an early 12-2 run as the hosts built a 16-7 lead. A minute later the gap was in double digits. Cook inspired another charge as Red Star went 7-2 and held a 30-19 lead after 10 minutes. Benetton continued with weak defense, allowing Red Star players lots of easy baskets. The visiting team tried using long-distance shooting to cut the gap, but the results were poor and Red Star led 38-23 four minutes into the second period. Finally Mensah-Bonsu managed to stop the hosts’ storm by leading 0-7 run. Switching to zone defense, Benetton was happy with a 45-36 score at the half.
Red Star held Benetton scoreless for almost 4 minutes at the beginning of the second half, as the hosts scored 5 straight points before Gaines answered with 4 points of his own for Benetton. The teams were trading baskets, which allowed Red Star to maintain a comfortable lead. The hosts were looking satisfied, as the third period ended at 60-49. Benetton surprised Red Star with a zone at the beginning of the final period. Soon the score was 62-58, but Boris Bakic scored from downtown to reestablish the hosts’ safe lead. When Cook and Austin traded triples, the margin remained at 7 points, but Austin cut it to 4 with another three. But it was not all. Austin fired another bomb and the score was 70-69 with three minutes to go. Dragicevic struck back with 7 straight points and Slivancanin joined him in Red Star’s 9-0 game-saving run. With one minute left, the score was 79-69 and 2 more points for each side kept a margin that gives both teams hope for the second leg.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008