Unicaja survives furious Skyliners comeback to claim Top 16 spot
Unicaja Malaga lost an 18-point third-quarter advantage, but held on late to edge Fraport Skyliners Frankfurt 78-84 on Wednesday and clinch a berth in the 7DAYS EuroCup Top 16. Dragan Milosavljevic scored the go-ahead three-pointer and iced the game with late free throws for Unicaja, which won its sixth straight game and improved to 6-1 in Group D. Milosavljevic finished with 16 points to lead the winners, Adam Waczynski added 14 and Giorgi Shermadini and Kyle Wiltjer scored 11 each. Carlos Suarez added 10 rebounds for Unicaja, which outebounded Skyliners 24-34. Trae Bell-Haynes scored a career-high 22 points and dished 5 assists to lead Skyliners, which fell to 4-3. Erik Murphy netted 11 points and Quantez Robertson and Jason Clark contributed 10 each in defeat.
Clark for the home team and Waczynski for the visitors stood out early as the teams traded great passing and baskets. Waczynski's foul-line jumper gave Unicaja an 8-14 lead five minutes into the game, but Skyliners scored the next 7 points to start a 17-2 charge that left the hosts on top 25-16 after 10 minutes. Robertson scored 8 points in that run. Milosavljevic ended the Unicaja drought with a layup to open the second quarter. A Garai Zeep triple gave Skyliners the game's first double-digit lead, 28-18, however Milosavljevic led the Unicaja resistance. After scoring 5 points, he set up Shermadini for a layup that narrowed the gap to 30-29 and then Carlos Suarez put the visitors back on top with free throws. Dani Diez and Sasu Salin Diez each drilled three-pointers as Unicaja reeled off 21 unanswered points over a six-plus--minute stretch to lead by 14. Brady Heslip's long three-pointer to end the first half made it 33-44 at the break. Marco Voeller scored three times in the first three minutes of the second half in hopes of igniting a Skyliners comeback, but Unicaja did not relent. Shermadini scored a basket-plus-foul and Waczynski stayed hot as the difference grew to 43-61. Elijah Clarence led a 13-0 Skyliners run that even a Unicaja timeout couldn't halt as the hosts rallied to 58-63 through three quarters. Unicja used its size advantage to net the first 6 points of the fourth quarter, but Bell-Haynes used his speed to score the game's next 7 points. His layup midway through the fourth quarter made it 70-72 and then his free throws tied it at 74-74. It came down to the final minute when Milosavljevic connected from behind the arc for Unicaja, two Skyliners players missed at the other end and Milosavljevic iced the game from the line.
A game of runs
Skyliners took charge early with a 17-2 run to finish the first quarter. Unicaja assumed control after a 0-21 run of its own in the second. And then the hosts came back again with a 13-0 blitz in the third quarter. The radical changes in momentum made it an unpredictable and exciting game to watch, which fittingly went to the wire.
When Unicaja most needed him, Dragan Milosavljevic was there. The do-it-all swingman spent part of the game filling in at point guard, however, when scoring is what his team needed. Milosavljevic obliged, He was perfect in the fourth quarter with 7 points, all of which came in the final two minutes. His first two baskets broke ties and his late free throws sealed the win.
Rookie Trae Bell-Haynes came into the game averaging 5.3 points, 2 assists and 0.8 steals per game in 16 minutes over six games this season. On Wednesday he exploded for 22 points, 5 assists and 3 steals in 25 minutes. Beyond just the raw numbers was Bell-Haynes's role in the Skyliners comeback and down the stretch. He poured in 13 points in the game's final stanza using his blazing speed and quick hands to get into the paint and finish layups from all angles. Even though it came in a losing effort, Skyliners learned a lot about the heart and ability of their backup point guard.
In Round 8 next week, Unicaja hosts Montenegrin champion Mornar Bar, while Skyliners welcome Rytas Vilnius to Frankfurt knowing that a win would secure its passage into the next stage.
Wednesday, November 14, 2018