Lietuvos Rytas became the exclusive leader in Group A by overwhelming AEK 76-102 in Athens, Greece on Tuesday night. L. Rytas improved to 4-1 and now leads the Group A standings since Hemofarm beat Nancy 93-82 in Vrsac, Serbia, earlier in the night. AEK dropped to 1-4 and needs to improve right away in order to make it to the elimination rounds. Joao Paulo Batista led the winners with 21 points on 9-of-9 free throws off the bench. Arturas Jomantas added 18 on 8-for-9 shooting, Andre Emmett had 14 while Roberts Stelmahers tallied 10 for L. Rytas. Ioannis Gagaloudis led AEK with 19 points while Nestoras Kommatos had 13 for the hosts. Free throws by Batista gave L. Rytas a 18-23 edge after 10 minutes, while Gagaloudis and Christos Tapoutos kept AEK within 39-46 at halftime. It didn't last long, however, as Jomantas had 12 points in a mamooth 2-27 run which bridged between the final two periods and allowed L. Rytas to seal the win long before the final buzzer.
The game got underway with L. Rytas pushing ahead 2-8 behind three-pointers from Andrius Slezas and Stelmahers. AEK missed its first four field goals before Nikos Vetoulas hit a triple. AEK could not shut L. Rytas's perimeter players, who kept bombarding from beyond the arc. Another Slezas triple made it 9-18 midway through the period. Christos Tapoutos came off the bench to revitalize AEK and soon Sotiris Nikolaidis capped a 6-0 run. Tapoutos muscled his way for a gutsy offensive rebound as the hosts pulled within 17-19. But L. Rytas kept its composure and behind free-throws from Slezas and Batista held an 18-23 gap after 10 minutes. Early in the second quarter, Kostas Maglos exploded for a thunderous two-handed dunk, but Batista and Titus Ivory combined for 9 points that catapulted the lead to double-digits. AEK coach Vangelis Alexandris called a timeout and switched to a 2-3 zone. But first Jomantas and then Janis Blums punished the lethargic defense to make it 24-39. AEK could not find any rhythm offensively and was kept without a basket for four minutes. Eventually Tapoutos slashed for a dunk, but Stelmahers immediately bettered him with another shot from downtown. L. Rytas was clearly in charge now. A pair of ridiculous triples by Ioannis Gagaloudis followed and moments later Tapoutos was fouled at the buzzer. He knocked down the three free throws from the charity stripe, helping AEK to claw its way back to 39-46 at intermission.
Kommatos came up big as the second half started. He connected on a three-pointer, stole the ball and then scored on back-to-back drives to keep AEK in the game. However, L. Rytas was hot from the perimeter and the silky shooting touch of Mindaugas Lukauskis and Slezas kept the hosts on top 52-56 midway through the quarter. Vetoulas fed Tapoutos for an uncontested layup, but Batista picked up the scoring slack and raced L. Rytas to a 58-64 lead. An ill-advised triple by Prodromos Nikolaidis led to a flagrant foul by Kommatos and a 0-6 surge for Lietuvos. AEK was now struggling from the arc as the visitors scored 7 straight to boost the margin to 60-77 after 30 minutes of play. Emmett fired in a three-pointer and moments later scored a layup that made it 60-86 and extended the L. Rytas run to a jaw-dropping 2-27. AEK was clearly in turmoil at both ends and any hopes of a comeback were now out of reach. On the other hand, L. Rytas was now galloping to easy baskets on the break, while Emmett and Batista were having a scoring party in the paint. It was a lackluster fourth-quarter effort by AEK, as the guests cruised to a resounding 76-102 triumph.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006