Asefa Estudiantes enjoyed a convincing 90-80 win over Pepsi Caserta on Tueday night at the Palacio Vistalegre to catapult itself to the top of the Group K standings. Estudiantes improved to 3-1, equaling Caserta’s record, but now ahead on a tiebreaker. Caserta would have qualified for the quarterfinals with a win. The Estu victory was cemented with tight defense in the final quarter and a strong performance by Nik Caner-Medley, who scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Daniel Clark added 13 points for the winners, Pancho Jasen scored 12 and Albert Oliver 11. Caserta played well for three quarters, but suffered a 22-6 run in the final period, as head coach Stefano Sacripanti’s crew struggled to find the basket. Timmy Bowers finished with 22 points, Eric Williams tallied 18 and Aaron Doornekamp and Jumaine Jones added 14 apiece in defeat, with the latter also corralling 11 rebounds. Estudiantes will travel to play CEZ Nymburk at in the Czech Republic next week, while Caserta will be on the road for the second straight week, visiting Galatasaray Café Crown in Istanbul.
Both teams set up inside to start, as 19 of the game’s first 26 points came from the paint. Bowers broke the ice from beyond the arc and Fabio Di Bella followed to score it 12-17 for Caserta, who featured Bowers early and often, as the guard netted 9 of his team’s first 12 points. Caner-Medley was Estudiantes’ main man on the offensive end and the forward established a post presence in the opening quarter with a three-point play and layup that set the table for his team’s first two triples, both German Gabriel makes that closed the quarter at a 23-28 deficit for the hosts. Lukasz Koszarek tried to push the tempo some for Caserta in the second, but it was Williams who set the tone inside with an intimidating presence that translated into a rim-rattling dunk after an offensive rebound of his own miss that made it 25-31 before Doornekamp’s three-pointer gave Caserta its biggest lead of the game at 25-34. The long-range marksmanship opened the door for high-voltage shooters like Ere and Jasen, who traded triples before Ere swished another to establish the visiting advantage at 8 points. With Gabriel emerging as one of Estudiantes’ main contributors at both ends, it was tough for head coach Luis Casimiro to see his center limp off the court midway through the second quarter. But his injury was followed by the entrance of young playmaker Sergio Fernandez and a willingness to run the floor. The big man’s absence was dearly felt by the hosts, though they labored through it to finish the half on a 7-0 run featuring plenty of Fernandez and Jasen, apparently back in full form in his return to the Eurocup after suffering a groin injury. With the first two quarters an even statistical affair, the break was reached at a minimal difference: 39-40.
Estudiantes kept its collective foot on the gas at the start of the second half, stringing 7 straight points that totaled a 14-0 run from the end of the first. With the game wide open, the offensive pace quickened and the shooters found good perimeter looks, but the hosts were still the ones to capitalize, building a 55-46 advantage that forced Sacripanti to use a timeout. The visitors effectively regrouped and inflicted a 0-7 run of their own that resulted in an equal response from the opposing bench: timeout, Casimiro. The reaction from the hosts did not follow the parallel, however. Instead, it was Ere who swished an off-balance triple to give Caserta the lead again, 55-56, before tacking on with a another long-range bomb. Despite Caserta’s improved offensive play, Estu was still able to tighten up the defense in the quarter’s last stretch, producing transitions baskets and finishing the period on top, 64-62. The hosts took off where they left off and got down to basics. With tighter defense on sweet-shooting Jones and Bowers, Caserta’s best clutch performers, and an aggressive transition game, they were able to break through and build a 78-67 cushion after a pair of gutsy fast breaks by Caner-Medley and Jasen. Out of sync in the halfcourt game, Caserta suffered on defense as well, never more apparently that when Caner-Medley executed a gorgeous baseline crossover on Williams and scored while drawing the foul on a reverse layup to make it 80-67 with less than five minutes to go. With the game on the line and Caserta struggling to get buckets, the battle in the trenches became a matter of survival for the visitors, and tempers flared on more than one occasion, as Estudiantes fought to secure the defensive rebounds. As Jones and Bowers became visibly frustrated, the home team was able to cruise the rest of the way to end the contest with a convincing win.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011