One young player will never forget his first Euroleague game of 2004. AEK rallied from 12 points down with 9 minutes left to stage a huge 83-82 last-second home win over Ulker Istanbul in Group A on Wednesday. The game-winning points came on a buzzer-beating turnaround jumper by young Georgios Tsiaras. The victory lifted AEK to 3-5 and gave the home fans in Athens hope for tight Group A race. Despite the return of center Joseph Blair and arrival of veteran Petar Naumoski, Ulker fell to the same record, 3-5, with its fourth consecutive loss. Horace Jenkins was again the main man for AEK, with 28 points, 10 of them in the final 6 minutes. Jenkins made 5 of 9 three-pointers and dished 5 assists also. Nikos Hatzis added 17 points for the winners while Tsiaris and Blagota Sekulic finished with 8 each. Melvin Booker was Ulker's big gun, with 23 points. He was followed by Blair with a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double. Kerem Gonlum added 12 points and Halik Yildirim 11 for Ulker, which allowed AEK 28 points in the final quarter.
Ulker wasted no time in declaring its intentions. The Turks staked a 13-point lead, 9-22, late in the first quarter behind the great offensive tandem of Booker and Blair, who scored 6 points apiece. Kutluay, Kerem Gonlum and Haluk Yildirim would also contribute 4 points each in the quarter, but Ulker's offensive effectiveness didn't last long. AEK had the answer defensively, once its players put huge pressure on their opponents, who made many turnovers in the last 2 minutes of the period. Meanwhile, Jenkins did exactly what he knows best, scoring from downtown, including some really unbelievable shots. He also distributed the ball perfectly to the big guys Blagota Sekulic and Pantelis Papaioakim as AEK rallied to wthin 19-24 after 10 minutes.
The second quarter was a pure fight between two teams that wanted the win very bad. When Ulker escaped with a nine-point lead, 29-38, midway through the period, Jenkins had the answer again scoring consecutive points to cut the margin. The most beautiful highlight of the game was Christos Tapoutos's alley-oop dunk that made it 37-38 late in the quarter. Well, Ulker had the solutions, using a Greek player. Efthimios Rentzias hit 3 free throws, the entire margin at the break as the Turkish team entered the locker room ahead 41-44.
After halftime the momentum continued to belong to Ulker, which led the game by 12 points, 49-61, midway the period due to some spectacular threes by Booker and some really effective inside play by Gonlum and Blair. AEK reacted by taking some crucial points thanks to its captain, Hatzis, who has a habit of playing strong in the second half of any game. Ulker should have taken that as a warning. When the Turkish club led by 15 late in the quarter, Hatzis and Jenkins were there to pull the brakes and trim Ulker's lead to just 11 points, 55-66, after 30 minutes.
When Yildirim hit a big three to make it 57-69 early in the quarter, Ulker looked sure of winning. But in the next 7 minutes, AEK answered with an incredible 13-0 run and took a 70-69 lead. Then came the last moments of the dramatic game. Jenkins made both free throws cutting the deficit to one point, 81-82. Naumoski, who had made Ulker's last shot, a three-pointer, now lost control of the ball and AEK had a last chance. Hatzis drove the baseline and passed the ball to Tsiaras with 1 second to go. With a turnaround shot, the youngster put the ball in the hole, giving his team the victory. His teammates mobbed Tsiaras as the hero of AEK's third win as if it were a final.
Wednesday, January 7, 2004