Following the lead of a precocious teenage talent, Partizan rejoined the race to reach the Top 16 from Group D by eliminating direct rival Panionios On Telecoms 80-57 before another sellout crowd in Belgrade, Serbia on Wednesday. Partizan improved to 4-5 and will tie for third place at the end of this round but cannot mathematically advance to the Top 16 this week due to its tie-break disadvantage against Armani Jeans Milano. Meanwhile, Panionios went down to 3-6 and is all but out of the Top 16 because of its tie-break disadvantages against Efes Pilsen and Partizan. Teenage sensation Jan Vesely paced the winners with 19 points and 10 rebounds, scoring 11 in a 30-9 first-quarter that set Partizan on its winning way. Stephane Lasme and Uros Tripkovic each added 12 points, Milenko Tepic had 11 while Slavko Vranes pulled down 13 boards for Partizan. Aaron Miles led Panionios with 14 points. Ivan Zoroski added 12, Lonny Baxter had 11 while Branko Cvetkovic got 10 for the guests. Vesely had 9 of his points during a 20-0 run in the middle of the first quarter that had the fans at Pionir Arena out of their seats for the rest of the game. Miles and Baxter brought Panionios back to life, 44-33, at halftime, but Partizan shut the guests without any points for 6 minutes after the break and kept a safe lead all the way until the final buzzer.
Vesely slammed an offensive rebound to open the scoring, but layups by Baxter around a triple by Cvetkovic boosted Panionios to a 2-7 lead. Vesely scored again from the baseline, Lasme joined him with an athletic basket and the teenager threw down a loose-ball dunk as the hosts went ahead 8-7. Novica Velickovic kept the Partizan run going then Aleksandar Rasic hit Vesely for a fastbreak dunk and free throw that meant a 13-7 lead and a Panionios timeout. Partizan wasn't finished, however. Lasme hit a nifty reverse, Vesely made both his technical free throws and Milenko Tepic blasted a triple on the ensuing possession. Then Lasme finished the 20-0 run with free throws as Partizan's lead hit 22-7 before Miles ended Panionios's misery with a jump shot. Uros Tripkovic and Petar Bozic joined the fun with back-to-back three-pointers off the bench as Partizan took complete control, 30-9 after one quarter.
Panionios came out a different team for the second quarter, forcing Partizan into 3 quick turnovers, a pair of which Dimos Dikoudis and Zoroski coverted as three-pointers in a 0-10 run to make it 30-19. Vesely ended the Partizan slide with a great cut, basket and free throw to make it 33-19, but Miles and Zoroski kept Panionios running to within 33-24. Vesely and Lasme got to the line to make 5 out of 6 free throws before Tripkovic blasted again from the arc at 41-26. On the next possession, after another offensive rebound, Rasic hit from long-range to again push the lead near 20 points, but Miles and Baxter combined for the last 7 points of the quarter to limit the halftime difference to 44-33.
The third quarter started quietly until Velickovic fed Slavko Vranes for a dunk and Baxter hit the Panionios bench with his fourth foul. The score stuck at 46-33 until midway through the quarter, when Tepic added a three-pointer to the lead. When Tripkovic pulled up and nailed an in-your-face triple, it was suddenly 52-33 and Panionios had still not scored in the quarter. Its irst pointsfinally came on an inbounds play under the basket, with Cvetkovic scoring a layup and free throw. Lasme and Cvetkovic traded baskets, the the former fed Vesely for another baseline dunk at 56-38. Panionios was able to trim the next 4 points off the difference, but Rasic ended the quarter from downtown with Partizan up 59-42.
Panionios needed a quick comeback to return to the game and Cvetkovic tried to ignite it with a mid-range jumper. Partizan stayed aggressive in defense, however, while a three-pointer by Bozic fired up the crowd at 62-44. Panionios used to use short possessions, even shooting in transition. Meanwhile, free throws by Vranes and another triple by Bozic - exactly from the same spot - sealed the outcome, 67-44, with under 7 minutes remaining. Both teams kept fighting for points differential, in what will surely be a critical issue in Group D. Partizan kept going to the foul line often and kept a considerable lead until the final minutes. Partizan fans were already celebrating not only a big win that gets the team closer to its Top 16 dream, but that a new star is born at Pionir Arena.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009