Playing without its firestarter on the road in Group A, Benetton Treviso did not miss a beat in finishing off pesky host Charleroi of Belgium 76-83 on Wednesday. As such, Benetton improved to 8-2 and kept at least a share of the lead of Group A, depending on the result of co-leader Maccabi at Unicaja Malaga on Thursday. In the absence of point guard Tyus Edney, another seasoned veteran, Marcelo Nicola, stepped up as he often does to hit two key three-pointers in the final quarter. Nicola led the winners with 18 points and Massimo Bulleri, the backup at point, came off the bench to add 17 and 4 assists in 33 impeccable minutes. Denis Marconato chipped in 12 points and 8 rebounds, and Bostjan Nachbar 10 points for Benetton. Charleroi, which was close enough to challenge, nonetheless stayed stuck on two victories (2-8), despite 26 points from Louis Rowe, 12 each from Roger Huggins and John Jerome, plus 11 from Ron Ellis.
The game started practically without a warmup, but as could be expected, the high pace was to Benetton's liking as the visitors made 6 of their first 8 shots en route to a 2-12 lead. That forced a Charleroi timeout as Giovanni Bozzi reminded his players that victory would require defense. And he was heard, as Charleroi became more physical. Denis Marconato, who was imperial on the boards until then, with 6 rebounds in 7 minutes), was suddenly unable to do the same. By fighting better for rebounds, Charleroi was able to develop fastbreaks and pull back within 13-16. Benetton responded, however, with baskets by Marconato, Massimo Bulleri and Marcelo Nicola to lead at 16-23 at the end of 10 minutes.
Louis Rowe then at last succeeded in penetrating the Benetton defenders, but that other end, Charleroi's defense still wasn't tough enough. As the Italians took profit from each little space, like forward Jorge Garbajosa stepping out to hit threes, it was time yet again for a Belgian time out: 19-30. It didn't change anything, Charleroi giving its fourth turn over of the quarter and its second offensive rebound (19-33 after a three pts of Nikola). But Rowe willed a new push, first a three-pointer, then a steal and layup, then four free throws, and suddenly it was only 28-33. For the first time of the game, Benetton had difficulties scoring, which reflected Charleroi's defensive progress. It was still a game at halftime, 32-37, thanks to Rowe's 14 points in that second quarter.
Charleroi took that momentum into the third quarter, closing down the space around Benetton's scorers and changing the game rhythm. The going got tougher and both defenses were winning. Little by little Charleroi kept chipping away until a basket by Huggins put the home team on the brink of taking over at 43-44. The takeover was cut short, however, as Nicola reassured his teammates with five straight points at the end of the quarter for a 46-51 visitors' lead.
Every thing was still possible. And it was now Jerome who took up scoring responsibilities for Charleroi. But each time Charleroi got close (53-56, 60-62, 65-65, 69-73), someone on Benetton - first Bulleri, then Nachbar, then Stojic and Garbajosa, eventually Nicola - pushed on the accelerator and sped the visitors away (55-62, 65-73, 69-77). Moreover, Charleroi offered it some easy possessions, which was too much if it expected to defeat such a potent team.
Wednesday, January 9, 2002