Benetton registered its first Top 16 win of the season in Group E by downing Panathinaikos 76-69 in Treviso, Italy on Wednesday night. Benetton improved to 1-1 and now ties with Efes Pilsen for the second spot in Group E, one win away from the undefeated leader Cibona. Meanwhile, Panathinaikos dropped to 0-2, a first this decade for that team at this stage of the competition. Andrea Bargnani led the winners with 20 points and 4 steals. Drew Nicholas had 17 points and Ramunas Siskauskas 16 for Benetton. Dimitris Diamantidis had 13 points for Panathinaikos while Jaka Lakovic, Mike Batiste and Vassilis Spanoulis each had 12 for the Greens. Batiste grabbed 15 rebounds for a double-double. Spanoulis and Batiste led Panathinaikos to a 42-45 lead at halftime, but Nicholas and Petar Popovic combined for all the points in an 11-1 run tht put Benetton in charge, 55-52, at the end of the third quarter. A wild three by Bargnani pushed Benetton's margin to 66-55 with 7 minutes to go. Panathinaikos rallied to get as close as 68-67, but free throws by Marcus Goree and an off-balance jumper by Nicholas sealed the win.
Kostas Tsartsaris and Lakovic stepped on court with consecutive triples to fuel a 0-6 Panathinaikos start. Bargnani broke Benetton's drought with a pair of free throws but Tsartsaris dunked in the lane, making it 2-8. It was up to Bargnani to revive the crowd with 5 straight points before Benetton found its first lead when Soragna scored back-to-back triples to put the hosts in front, 13-10. Batiste followed a dunk with a jumper to help Panathinaikos stay close until a three-point basket-plus-free throw by Diamantidis tied it 17-17 after 6 minutes. Benetton held Panathinaikos without a basket over 3 minutes while Marco Mordente and Siskauskas built a five-point edge, 24-19, for the hosts. Spanoulis had other plans for the last minute as he drove the lane twice to make it a one-point game, 26-25, after 10 minutes.
Dejan Tomasevic and Spanoulis put Panathinaikos in front again, 28-29, early in the second quarter. Benetton found oxygen with Bargnani, whose 4 points in a row – including an amazing reverse-layup-plus-free throw – got the lead back for the hosts at 31-29. After Marcus Goree's foul shot, Batiste found an incredible triple over Benetton’s zone defense to tie it up again, 32-32. Bargnani was unstoppable, howver, and dunked an offensive rebound, but Batiste copied him on the way to another lead change, 35-36. Spanoulis and Bargnani exchanged baskets, while Siskauskas dunked to tie 41-41. Panathinaikos got the spark late in the quarter, as Batiste made free throws and Lakovic followed a foul shot with a three-pointer to put the Greens up 42-45 at halftime.
Nicholas fed Siskauskas for an easy layup early in the third quarter but Diamantidis gave Panathinaikos a 44-48 lead with a drive. Nicholas now spurred Benetton with a personal 7-0 run as he scored back-to-back backdoor baskets and nailed a three-pointer to make it 51-48. Nobody scored for 2 minutes after a Panathinaikos timeout until Batiste made a free throw, but Petar Popovic resurfaced with back-to-back baskets to supply Benetton's highest lead yet, 55-49. Diamantidis ended the quarter by driving for a layup-plus-free throw that made it 55-52 after 30 minutes.
After Siskauskas lengthened the Benetton advantage with a corner triple early in the last quarter, Nicholas added to it with an inside basket for a 61-55 score. With the momentum back to the hosts, Nicholas scored a floater and Bargnani hit a huge three-pointer off the dribble that meant the game's first double-digit margin, 66-55. The Greens were now done. After Dusan Sakota made free throws, Lakovic made Benetton pay for a turnover with a triple that made it 66-60. Siskauskas found a bucket inside for the hosts, but Spanoulis did the same and Sakota hit a big three-pointer as Panathinaikos came within 68-66 with 2:14 left to play. Almost a minute later, Lakovic drew Bargnani’s fifth foul but made only 1 of 2 from the foul line, while Goree made both of his at the other end to keep Benetton safe at 70-67. Lakovic missed his attempt at a game-tying triple then Nicholas buried a huge jumper in the lane off the dribble to make it 72-67 with 36 second left. Benetton didn’t suffer anymore to achieve a clutch win in the Top 16 race in Group G.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006