Benetton lived to fight another day in Group G of the Top 16 by handing previously undefeated AEK its first defeat, 85-65, at home in Treviso, Italy on Wednesday. Benetton broke its two-game losing streak in the Top 16 and improved to 2-2 in the Group G standings. Meanwhile, AEK dropped to 3-1 and tied with Efes Pilsen for the top spot in the group table. What's more, Benetton's winning margin erased its eight-point loss to AEK in Athens, which could come in handy in any future tie situations involving those two teams. Marlon Garnett led the way for Benetton scoring 20 points, including 5 three-pointers in 6 attempts. Marcus Goree posted 16 points on 6 of 9 two-point shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds. Andrea Bargnani had 11 points in as many minutes for the winners, while Massimo Bulleri chipped in 10. Toby Bailey was the only AEK player to score in dougle figures, with a game-high 26 points. Benetton opened the game with a 8-0 run that allowed the hosts to keep a safe lead the rest of the way, especially after Garnett went on fire early in fourth quarter with 8 points of a 10-0 run that sealed the outcome.
Goree opened the scoring with a mid-range jumper after just 15 seconds, then back-to-back triples by Bulleri and Siskauskas pushed Benetton to a quick 8-0 after 2 minutes. Benetton surprised the guests with a tough defensive start, blocking shots, drawing a charge and making a steal. Both teams then went scoreless for 3 minutes until Zisis chipped in the first bucket of the night for AEK with 5.08 left in the first quarter. Joey Beard scored a pair from the foul line for Benetton, while AEK carried on facing a wall,unable to find a way the basket and forcing a timeout to figure out how. Goree put back an offensive rebound to push the margin into double digits at 13-2. Bailey scored from downtown to give AEK life, but Goree answered with an amazing dunk to which he added a free throw. David Bluthenthal pushed Benetton ahead 19-7 from three-point range before 4 quick points from Zisis trimmed the difference to 20-11 for Benetton after 10 minutes.
The defensive battle continued into the second quarter, when both looked to score inside. Even so, it was Bailey who scored first, with an amazing dunk over Goree after 12 minutes. Giannis Bouroussis blocked an attempt from Goree and then tipped in a missed shot by Bailey to pull AEK within 20-15. Garnett scored his first triple to highlight a 7-0 run with which Benetton took back a double-digit lead, 27-15, midway through the quarter. Afte Mikalis Pelekanos stepped on court for AEK and exchanged baskets with Goree, Siskauskas scored to push Benetton to its biggest lead yet, 35-21, after 18 minutes. Bargnani came off the baseline to score a spectacular basket, though he missed a free throw that came with it. AEK got a much-needed boost from Davor Kus, whose big triple and free throws brought the guests within 37-28 at halftime.
AEK tried to slow the pace starting the second half, as Quadre Lollis scored off a steal and Bailey added free throws to extend a 0-9 run from before the break that cut the difference to 37-32. Siskauskas broke the ice for Benetton with a mid-range jumper after 3 scoreless minutes, then Bulleri returned to push to hosts to a higher speed. Garnett fired in consecutive triples, and even when Bailey matched the first one from downtown, Bouroussis missed the second. Marconato stepped up with free throws and a basket in the paint to boost Benetton's margin to 51-38. Pelekanos, Zisis and Bailey combined for all the points in a 2-6 AEK run, but Bargnani nailed a three-pointer to help Benetton keep a double-digit lead, 56-44. Matteo Soragna took over with a big three on Benetton's final possession of this period to fix a 61-48 margin for the hosts after 30 minutes.
Garnett went on fire early in fourth, again nailing consecutive three-pointers and adding free throws in a game-breaking 10-0 run that Goree capped with a put-back that made it 71-48 with 8 minutes left. Bailey tried to change things with a big three-pointers and Bouroussis became a threath both in the paint and from downtown, but even with that, the hosts were still in charge. Benetton kept a safe 75-59 lead midway through the quarter, but coach Ettore Messina called timeout to keep his team focused and avoid troubles. Bargnani came off the bench to hit a shot from the arc, and Benetton maintained its confidence by raising the margin to 81-59 again, no doubt thinking that extra points might come in handy if there are ties in the future. AEK kept struggling to as Benetton sealed a crucial, well-deserved victory long before the final buzzer.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005