Unicaja Malaga of Spain had to suffer for its first Euroleague win, but playing at home before 8,500 supporters helped push it to a 76-68 decision over visiting Region Wallonne Charleroi of Belgium in Group A. Berni Rodriguez led the winners with 16 points, while Veljko Mrsic and Chuck Kornegay put up 13 each. Charleroi was led by point guard Jacques Stas, who scored all 16 of his points in the first half. Having lost in overtime its opening game, Malaga was loathe to fall out of the Group A race early, but some nervousness on its first home Euroleague date plus an inspired Charleroi performance left the game up for grabs well into the second half. Indeed, the home team was down six late in the third quarter when Chuck Kornegay sparked a 11-2 run that ended with a Paco Vazquez three-pointer and Malaga in the lead at 54-52. From there, Moustapha Sonko and Veljko Mrsic, just back from a preseason injury, combined to keep Charleroi at bay. Malaga's defense and its crowd did the rest as the hosts bettered their record to 1-1. Charleroi, despite a much-improved effort on the road against one of Europe's top defensive teams, fell to 0-2.
The inclusion of Mrsic in the Malaga starting five pleased the jam-packed crowd at José María Martín Carpena Arena, but not even the presence of the club's top scorer last season could deter a Charleroi team that came to play. The Belgians, with Stas directing, stayed a step ahead or even with their hosts until the end of the quarter, when Malaga finished ahead 19-15. With its confidence high, Charleroi locked down its defense and all stray rebounds while giving its offense the chance to forge a 27-32 lead, with Stas scoring 11 of those points. Malaga also had trouble getting past Charleroi big men Engellant and Roger Huggins, who were leading the visitors to a 20-13 rebounding edge, but a last-minute 6-0 run allowed the home team to actually take a 33-32 lead at the half.
Mentally, Charleroi did not let up one instant after halftime. Working the inside now and finding its way past Malaga's famed defense on dribble-drives, the visitors re-took the lead and added to it until they were ahead 41-47 with two minutes left in the third quarter. That, however, is when Malaga's inside depth and physical strength turned the game around. Kornegay took quick control of the paint for a pair of baskets in a 10-5 run to finish the third quarter. The Charleroi lead was down to 51-52. The fourth quarter began with the big three-pointer by Vazquez to put Malaga ahead 54-52. A big blocked shot by Kornegay and two baskets by Sonko made it 58-54. Even when Huggins answered on the next possession, Mrsic was there to answer back with a three-pointer that put the lead at 61-56. Malaga couldn't actually shake Charleroi until the final three minutes, but neither could the visitors manage to get close enough to challenge the lead on one shot. They didn't have the stregth left to fight both the Malaga players and the energy generated by a now-jubilant crowd.
Wednesday, October 17, 2001