Kerem Tunceri's driving layup with 0.8 seconds left on the clock gave Efes a stunning 72-70 victory in Istanbul over Skipper Bologna to forge a tie between the two teams at the top of Group E. The dramatic win spoiled Skipper's chances to become the clear favorite halfway through the Top 16. Instead, the clubs are tied atop Group E with identical 2-1 records, and Olimpija (1-1) can match them with a road victory on Thursday at Pau-Orthez (0-2). Goran Nikolic scored 18 points and hauled in 12 rebounds for Efes, while Ermal Kuqo finished with 14 points. No other Efes player reached double figures, though Tunceri finished with 9 points. Milos Vujanic came off the bench to score a game-high 24 points, including 5 triples, for Skpper. Gianluca Basile was Skipper's other high-man with 14 points and 4 assists. Vujanic fired in 2 huge triples to give Skipper a late four-point edge, but Nikolic stopped Skipper with 4 straight points to set up Tunceri's last-second heroics.
Efes inserted Tunceri into the starting lineup in the place of young guard Ender Arslan, and the change paid off in the opening minutes. Skipper struggled to keep up with the hosts, as Prkacin and Nikolic worked well inside to stop Tomas Van den Spiegel and Matjas Smodis. Prkacin chipped in on the offensive end, scoring a layup to put Efes ahead 9-5 after 3 minutes of play. Efes continued to roll, boosting its lead thanks to well-balanced scoring and Skipper's offensive struggles. Skipper stayed alive thanks to a Smodis triple late in the quarter. Kuqo, who substituted for Prkacin, did a great job in relief, scoring 6 straight points to give Efes a 24-12 edge after one quarter.
Skipper found its rhythm at the beginning of the second quarter with a strong zone defense. The visitors immediately cut into Efes's lead with a 2-8 run over 3 minutes. Basile's triple made the score 26-20 and moments later center Erazem Lorbek made it 28-24 with a layup in the 15th minute. Efes continued to struggle against the Skipper zone but stayed ahead until Basile knotted the score at 33-33 with his second triple. Skipper earned its first lead, 35-36, when Vujanic connected on another bomb from the left side in the 18th minute. With big guns Antonio Granger and Trajan Langdon silent, the Efes offense never got off the ground in the second quarter. A final three-pointer by Basile gave Skipper a four-point edge at the halftime, 37-41
At the beginning of the third quarter, neither side could score for nearly 4 minutes until Langdon finally found the bottom of the net with a three-pointer. He then added a pair of free throws to give Efes the lead back at 44-43. Skipper continued struggling until the 25th minute, when Vujanic got the visitors going again on a drive to the rim. Skipper's woes were not finished, as Smodis picked up his fourth foul. Vujanic rallied his club, however, making another critical basket plus a three-pointer that cut the Efes lead to 53-52. Efes responded with a 6-0 run that was concluded with a spectacular dunk from Granger in the 29th minute with his side ahead 59-52. Basile's three-pointer closed the quarter with the score 59-55 after 30 minutes.
Skipper burst out of the gate in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter with a 0-7 run ignited by Gianmarco Pozzecco and A.J.Guyton. With Skipper ahead 59-62, the game turned to a real fight as both defenses were relentless. Skipper kept its edge thanks to the shooting of Vujanic and Basile, but neither side could land a decisive knockout blow. A second Vujanic triple put Skipper ahead 64-68 with 2 minutes remaining, but Nikolic and Prkacin scored 6 unanswered points, as Efes took back the lead 70-68. Nikolic fouled Smodis on the next play and the Skipper forward dropped in both free throws to even the score at 70-70. Efes had one last chance to win and it went to Tunceri. Tunceri started his drive with 6 seconds remaining and found open space under the basket with time enough to lay the ball in the cup and beat the buzzer, clinching a crucial 72-70 win for Efes.
Wednesday, March 17, 2004