Monaco finishes strong to beat Unicaja
Already-qualified AS Monaco confirmed its dominance in Group E by defeating Unicaja Malaga 89-98 on the road on Tuesday night. The visitors built an early 6-15 lead, but allowed 37 second-half quarter that saw them trail 76-71 early in the fourth. Consecutive three-point plays by Mathias Lessort and Rob Gray boosted a 2-13 run down the stretch that sealed the outcome for the visitors, who finished first in the group with 5-1. Mathias Lessort led the winners with a double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds, both career-highs, against his former team. Dee Bost followed him with 21 points on 5-of-6 three-point shooting. Damien Inglis scored 16 and Rob Gray 10 for Monaco. Jaime Fernandez poured in a career-high 28 points on 5-of-8 three-point shooting for Unicaja, which finished last in the group with one win in six games. Francis Alonso had 18 points and 7 assists for a career-high PIR of 28, while Axel Bouteille contributed 17 points and 6 assists and Yannick Nzosa provided career-highs in points (16) and blocks (4) in defeat.
The visitors had a strong start to lead 2-8. Even though Unicaja tried to change the trend with a timeout, Monaco kept scoring with ease and extended the gap to 6-15 behind a three-pointer by Bost and layups from Lessort and Inglis. Fernandez stepped up and combined with Nzosa to reanimate the hosts, 15-18. Lessort replied in the paint and J.J. O’Brien went to the line to close the first quarter with the visitors ahead 18-24. Both teams excelled in offense early in the second, but Unicaja benefitted the most from it as triples by Tim Abromaitis, Alonso and Bouteille led to its first lead, 36-34, after 15 minutes. The scoring showdown didn’t stop, as both teams kept getting buckets on almost every play. Bouteille hit again from downtown to keep Unicaja in front, 46-43, then Fernandez and Alonso joined in with back-to-back triples to bring the hosts up 55-48 at halftime.
The shooters took a break in the third quarter and although the visitors kept a good scoring flow through their frontcourt, Unicaja maintained a 63-56 advantage thanks to Nzosa and Deon Thompson’s hustle. Bost stepped up from downtown and Lessort followed in the paint to make it 65-64. Bost kept scoring, but Fernandez and Bouteille took the reins to help Unicaja enter the last quarter up 73-69. Bost drilled a three to cap a four-point play that got it all square. Marcos Knight returned the lead to the visitors, 77-79, soon after. Fernandez strung together a couple of jumpers to tie it again, but Lessort took advantage of Nzosa’s absence to contribute consecutive basket-plus-foul plays that opened an 82-88 gap for the visitors with 3 minutes remaining. A transition three-pointer and free throws by Gray allowed Monaco to extend it to 84-95 entering crunch time as a 5-second violation inbounding a ball in the last minute ruined Unicaja’s last attempt to come back.
After a crazy scoring game, with several ups and downs and lead changes, Jaime Fernandez nailed a three-pointer to get it all square, 82-82, midway through the last quarter. Two consecutive three-point plays by Mathias Lessort right after that allowed Monaco to escape, while a three-pointer and 3 free throws by Rob Gray decided the game soon after.
Offensive rebounding and turnovers proved crucial in this game, as the visitors took almost half of their 98 points from those situations. Monaco made 25 points off Unicaja’s turnovers and added 20 second-chance points from 12 offensive boards.
Did you know?
Mathias Lessort seems to feel pretty good every time he plays against his former team Unicaja, where he spent the 2018-19 season. His 21 points and 11 rebounds were both career-highs, but he also got career-bests in PIR (32), offensive rebounds (8) and steals (4) in the previous matchup against Unicaja in Top 16 Round 2.
AS Monaco will face Buducnost VOLI Podgorica in the 7DAYS EuroCup best-of-three quarterfinals, starting on March, 23. The first game will take place in Monaco. Unicaja Malaga said goodbye to the competition after finishing last in Group E.
Tuesday, March 9, 2021