A game in which missed free throws played a pivotal role for both sides saw Ulker Istanbul escape with a 67-63 home win over Lottomatica Roma in the only Group A contest on Wednesday. The victory improves Ulker's record to 3-1, while Lottomatica remains winless and in last place at 0-4. The game was always close, even though Ulker led from the second quarter onwards. Still, the margin never hit double digits and the outcome had to be decided in the last minute from the free throw line. Since neither team excelled in free shots all night - Ulker made 16 of 29 total, Lottomatica just 6 of 18 - the team that missed less in the closing minutes took the win. Joseph Blair led the winners with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Melvin Booker and Efthimios Rentzias added 14 points each and Brad Traina contributed 12, including some of important shots at the end. For the guests, Alessandro Tonnolli came up big with 21 points, making 6 of 9 three-pointers, and Carlton Myers added 10 points.
The first quarter had two names: Tonnolli and Rentzias. Tonnolli soared for 4 of 5 triples in the first 10 minutes for 12 points, while Rentzias scored as many points thanks to 2 of 2 two-pointers, 2 of 2 threes and 2 of 4 free throws. The game was as close as their numbers, as Rentzias hit one of his triples to tie it 16-16. Things remained close until the end of the period. Renztias scored 4 more points, 2 of them with a dunk, while Blair and Ibrahim Kutluay also contributed to Ulker's minimum advantage, 21-20, after 10 minutes.
The second quarter wasn't as offensive as the first. Roma dominated under the boards, while Doremus Bennerman and Kutluay traded three-pointers as Ulker stayed ahead 29-25. The guests started to collect misses inside and outside the arc, and Ulker knew how to run the fastbreak with the rebounds, as Blair would dunk twice alone on the offensive end. In the static attacks, Ulker had patience against Lottomatica's choice of zone defense, but Alex Righetti tried to keep the visitors apace with a triple, but it wasn't the right remedy. Booker played at ease on offense, scoring a four-meter jumper for a 33-25 Ulker lead. Blair's dunks pushed that 37-30 in minute 28. Roma had more shooting opportunities thanks to better rebounding at both ends, but its shots wouldn't go in.
A layup by Blair broke a scoring drought to start the second half, but had the unintended effect of started Lottomatica on a 2-9 run sealed by a triple from Myers that put the Italians back in the game for good at 41-40. But unlike in the first half, defenses took over now and the points arrived little by little. Lottomatica tied the game at 43-43, but it didn't last long as 4 straight points from the hosts made it 47-43 for ULker. Myers came up big from the 6.25 line, but good ball circulation by Ulker allowed Traina to answer in kind from the side for 50-46. The score didn't change from there until the end of the quarter as a couple of good defensive plays by Ulker forced Roma to shoot late in its possession, missing both times.
The last quarter saw no improved shooting. Blair was called for an unsportsmanlike foul on Tusek, but the latter missed both free throws, and later missed also the triple on the same play. Minutes later, Traina hit another triple for the first points of the fourth quarter and a solid 53-46 Ulker lead. However, Tonnolli then stepped up to the arc to hit his sixth triple of 8 attempts for 53-51. First Rentzias and later Traina, with a three-point play, left things at 58-51 with 2 minutes, 30 seconds to play. Both teams went to the free throw line repeatedly, but their success rate dropped dramatically as the game went on. Lubos Barton, however, scored 2 attempts to give Lottomatica options at 58-54. The game advanced through free throws as Booker hit 2 more for 61-56 with 45 seconds to go. The decisive play of the game arrived, as it could have been no other way, with Traina scoring 2 attempts from the free thow line, and Tutku Acik getting a steal and 2 more free throw attempts, of which he made 1 for a 64-58 Ulker with less than 30 seconds to go. Lottomatica wouldn't surrender until the final buzzer, but Barton's last-second triple only left things at 67-63 after 40 minutes.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003