Lietuvos Rytas got a leg up on BC FMP with a 78-67 win in the first leg of the teams' home-and-away ULEB Cup semifinal series on Tuesday night at the Siemens Arena in Vilnius, Lithuania. The hosts, playing without injured leading scorer Kareem Rush, got contributions from 10 different players as they took an 11-point lead heading into next week's return leg in the Belgrade suburb of Zeleznik. Tomas Delininkaitis had 14 points and 4 assists, Mindaugas Lukauskis added 13 and Joao Paulo Batista 11 for the winners, who shot 18-of-27 (66.7%) from two-point range. Zoran Erceg posted game-highs of 21 points and 8 rebounds for FMP, while Aleksandar Rasic scored 14 and Branko Cvetkovic 10. The game was close in the early going, but the hosts heated up from outside and increased their defensive toughness during a 30-13 second quarter as they took a 52-36 halftime lead. FMP clawed its way back in the fourth quarter, with Rasic and Cvetkovic making clutch baskets, but free throws by Janis Blums and Arturas Jomantas down the stretch helped L. Rytas finish with a respectable lead ahead of next week's thrilling finale as the Lithuanian champs hope to become the first former ULEB Cup winners to return to the title game.
Shorthanded L. Rytas started strong and opened the scoring with a flashy dunk by Marijonas Petravicius, which was followed by Blums's jumper off the dribble. FMP followed the tempo with penetration by Cvetkovic and Rasic added a triple to push the visitors ahead at 4-5. Jomantas went aggressively inside and converted his play into two free throws. But FMP continued to play hard on the defensive end and collected its fifth team foul. Petravicius struggled a bit from the free-throw line, making only one of his next 4 tries, but Lukauskis grabbed an offensive rebound and made a pair of free throws himself. Both teams enjoyed the up-tempo game as Erceg and Rasic combined for 4 points for visitors. FMP turned to a full-court press and it paid off with Blum missing some difficult three-pointers. FMP's frontcourt players closed the path through the paint, forcing L. Rytas to shoot and miss from the outside. Petravicius tied the score from the line with pair of free throws, but Marko Djerasimovic copied him on the other end and left the hosts with 22-23 deficit after first 10 minutes.
A three-pointer by Robert Stelmahers started the second quarter for the hosts as L. Rytas continued to rely on long-distance shooting. Jomantas tried to penetrate, but his shot was rejected. L. Rytas used a half-court press and its active defense paid off with a few steals, but the hosts did nothing but convert them into turnovers. Erceg broke the dry spell for his team, which regained the lead at 28-29. L. Rytas picked up the pace and created opportunities for an open triple from Delininkaitis, which was followed by two free throws by Ivan Koljevic. It seemed to be a pivotal point in the second quarter as Batista made all the way through for a layup-plus-foul that gave the hosts their first sizable lead, 36-29. However FMP effectively used L. Rytas's lazy defense as Predrag Samardziski made an easy basket. The hosts answered with 4 points from Delininkaitis and Jomantas. L. Rytas continued to dominate as Batista made a layup off the pick-and-roll and Lukauskis shot the lights out with an outside bomb that fixed the scoreboard at 45-33 and forced FMP to call timeout. It didn't help as the shooot-out continued for the hosts, who got back-to-back triples from Delininkaitis and Koljevic. Milos Teodosic answered with a free throw, but Koljevic's buzzer-beater extended the hosts' lead to 52-36.
The visitors started the second half with back-to-back scores from Erceg and Cvetkovic, but L. Rytas's man-to-man defense slowed FMP down, while the hosts switched their offense and went to Lukauskis, who made a nice layup and then a dunk off his own steal. Petravicius kept L. Rytas going with a three-point play that made it 61-42. Koljevic's air-ball gave FMP an opportunity, but Erceg made only one free throws at the other end. Both teams failed to score for a while, but bad news came soon for the visitors as Bojan Krstovic picked his fifth foul and headed to the bench. Matt Nielsen made 1-of-2 free throws for his first point in the game. But FMP closed the quarter with a long-distance shot at the buzzer that left them behind 64-53 with one period to go.
Delinikaitis made 2-of-3 free throws to start the final quarter, but Djordje Micic matched him with his penetration. Active defense by L. Rytas forced FMP to committ 4 team fouls in less than 3 minutes. Worse for the visitors was Erceg's fourth foul. FMP couldn't find a way inside, where Petravicius stopped all their attempts. Rasic made only one free throw and missed a three on the next possession. With Stelmahers just over the flu, the hosts seemed a little less synchronized, but he made up for his game with difficult layup. Teodosic missed from outside, but Samardziski was there for a put-back basket. L. Rytas failed to execute the play and Teodosic launched a triple in response that reduced the deficit to single digits. L. Rytas found an open Andrius Slezas under the basket before Rasic left questions to be answered as he made both free throws. Lukauskis failed to match him by hitting only 1-of-2 from the line, but Batista banked in a jumper. L. Rytas controlled the ball for 24 seconds, but Blums committed a turnover that was converted into a basket by Cvetkovic. However it was too late for a comeback as free throws by Blums and Jomantas fixed the hosts' victory at 78-67 in their last home game this season and left L. Rytas with a double-digit advantage before the second leg in Serbia.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007