AEK took a huge step towards making the Top 16 from Group B by beating Scavolini Pesaro 78-72 at home in Athens on Wednesday to break their share of a fourth-place tie. AEK improved to 7-6 in the Group B standings and can clinch the Top 16 if Maccabi Tel Aviv beats Union Olimpija on Thursday. Scavolini dropped to 6-7 but still depends on itself to reach the next round. Toby Bailey was the man of the game, leading the winners with 20 points, including 5 in a late 10-2 run that gave AEK the lead for good. Quadre Lollis added 14 points, Sandro Nicevic 13 (plus 8 rebounds and 5 assists) and Nikos Zizis 10 points for the hosts. Scoonie Penn and Hanno Mottola led 18 points each for Scavolini, which led 64-68 with 3 minutes to go. Bailey came to the rescue for AEK, following free throws with a three-point play, while Sotiris Nikolaidis had 5 points in the final 25 seconds to seal the outcome.
AEK started the game nervous and made turnovers that Penn took advantage of for the first basket scored. Lollis and Bailey responded with all AEK's points as the hosts took a 5-2 advantage. Penn evened the score at 7-7 with a triple from downtown and his teammate, Matteo Malaventura, copied him to send the visitors in front. Marko Milic made a reverse and Scavolini had a 9-12 advantage 5 minutes into the game. Neither team was taking charge, but Scavolini played confidently and kept hitting its shots until a fastbreak layup by Penn made it 12-21. The guests looked even stronger as dunks by Alessandro Frosini and Milic gave them a lead of 14-25 after 10 minutes.
Mottola's free throws to start the second quarter boosted Scavolini's lead to 13 points. It was time for AEK to respond, and once the hosts tightened their defense, enough easy opportunities resulted to fill an 11-0 run with 7 points coming from Bailey, who jumped through the paint and hit from the arc. Scavolini still led, 25-27, and Milic hit a sky hook to end 4 scoreless minutes for the guests. But youngster Spyros Magkounis soon gave AEK a lead back at 34-33 with a big triple from the corner. Scavolini had trouble passing and finding shots, so the versatile Milic bore the responsibility of playing the point guard. Free throws by Mottola forged a 37-37 tie, but Giannis Bouroussis scored under the basket to give AEK the lead at 39-37 as the first half ended.
Mottola popped in 4 points to start the third period and Penn drilled an open triple to answer to Bailey's three, as the score stood tied at 44-44. Scavolini looked inside to Mottola, who either scored or drew fouls while putting the guests back in front, 44-48. Robert Archibald followed in Mottola footsteps for Scavolini, scoring a couple of layups, as the size of those two big men gave AEK trouble. Point guard Davor Kus saved AEK by connecting from behind the arc to give the hosts a new lead at 51-50. It didn't last, however, because Mottola slammed with two hands and Malaventura buried a triple to make it 51-55 for Scavolini. Nicevic got a basket back for AEK as Kus went off with his fourth foul, but Penn ended the quarter at the foul line to give Scavolini a 53-57 edge after 30 minutes.
Nicevic fed Lollis with a great pass to start the final quarter and begin a big run for AEK. Lollis added a basket and free throw, Nicevic a jumper from the baseline and Nikos Hatzis a triple from the corner to account for 10 unanswered points and a sudden 63-57 AEK advantage. Scavolini had gone 4 minutes, 30 seconds without scoring, but was about to answer as Archibald scored inside and Milic added a basket-plus-foul to trim the difference to 63-62. Teemu Rannikko popped in free throws and Mottola completed the 0-9 Scavolini run with the guests now ahead, 63-66. Nicevic and Bailey shared 3 free throws that helped AEK breathe again. Then Bailey's jumper-plus-free-throw seized a new lead, 69-68 for the hosts. Mottola and Nicevic scored as the lead changed twice again, but after Penn missed an off-balance layup in traffic, Zisis made sure of his own to put AEK in charge at 73-70 with 40 seconds to go. After another Penn miss, Nikolaidis scored 3 free throws in 4 tries to make it 76-72 with 16 seconds left. Rannikko tried to find a quick layup, but Lollis blocked it and Nikolaidis wrote the final 78-72 on a fastbreak as AEK turned its attention to the possiblity of reaching the Top 16 even before its final regular season game.
Wednesday, February 2, 2005