AEK defeated visting Lottomatica Roma 79-77 on Thursday in Group A, ending a 21-month drought from the last time that they won a Euroleague contest at home. The game was a back and forth battle with each team giving its all from beginning to end. AEK got a great effort from Nikos Zisis with 19 points, and Nikos Chatzis had 18. Christos Tapoutos chipped in with 13 for AEK including some clutch 3-point shooting. Lottomatica was led by Alex Righetti, who scored all 18 of his points through the first three quarters. Carlton Myers scored 15, but shot just 1 for 8 from downtown, and Lubos Barton had 14 points for Rome. Rome had a chance to tie the game or win it on its last possession but Myers was forced to take a difficult three-pointer, which he air-balled.
The game began following a moment of silence in honor of the 19 Italian policemen killed in Southern Iraq yesterday. Lubos Barton scored four quick points to in the game's opening moments to give Lottomatica Roma a 0-4 lead. AEK didn't waist any time recovering and used an up tempo game to run off a 8-0 partial, which gave them an 8-4 edge. Moments later the led went to five points, 12-7. Nikos Zissis played excellent defense on Carlton Myers and the Yellows, despite the absence of catalyst Horace Jenkins managed to continued to create fast break opportunities and to take advantage of the transition game in the early going. Myers finally scored his first basket in the game just a few seconds before the end of the first quarter, bringing Lottomatica within 2 points as the opening quarter ended, 14-12.
AEK opened the second quarter with a basket by captain Nikos Hatzis and led by 18-14. The visitors responded and went on a 5-0 run behind Alex Righetti, good enough to grab a 18-19 lead. Christos Tapoutos hit two consecutive three pointers for a three point edge, 26-23. Righetti was on fire and the 26 years old Italian forward was unstoppable for every AEK defender that guarded him. Thanks to his shooting, Lottomatica went on an 8-1 run in last two minutes, grabbing a six point advantage, 33-39, at the end of the first half. Righetti has already scored 16 points and gave his team the confidence the need to control a typical road game.
As the third period started AEK, which won its last home Euroleague game since February 27, 2002, opened with a 10-2 run, to take the lead back, 43-41. Andreas Gluniadakis committed his third foul, but Pantelis Papaioakim was called upon by coach Fotis Katsikaris did an excellent excellent job as his replacement. However, Alessandro Tonolli brought the vistors ahead, 43-44. Once again the Yellows found the answer, as Nikos Zissis scored 8 points in a row, to give his team a five point advantage, 51-46. Then it was Lottomatica's turn. Pierluigi Bucchi called for a zone defense and on the other end Lottomatica drilled three consecutive three pointers, which gave them a 54-55 edge. At the end of the third quarter Lottomatica was up by three, 58-61.
As the fourth quarter got underway, Nikos Hatzis took advantage of Lottomatica Roma's zone defense, sinking a three pointer which gave AEK a 64-61 lead. Lottomatica suffered a serious blow when Alessandro Tonolli and Alex Righetti both picked up their fifth and final personal fouls. AEK found its rhythm from the perimeter, as Zissis and Hatzis punished the zone defense of Lottomatica and opened the AEK margin to seven points, 77-70, with one minute and 30 seconds remaining in the contest. Visiting Lottomatica continued to fight and the back and forth contest would have to be decided in the game's final minute. Lottomatica point guard Davide Bonora made 3 for 3 free throws, which pulled his team within 77-73. Quadre Lollis followed by hitting 1 of 2 from the line. Lubos Barton then drilled a clutch three pointer and Lottomatica was behind by just 2 points at 78-76. Seventeen seconds before the end Carlton Myers managed to connect on just 1 of 2 free throws, cutting the margin to 78-77. Nikos Zissis then went to the line and hit 1 of 2 as well, making it 79-77 with ten seconds to go. Lottomatica Roma had the last opportunity either to win the game, or to force an overtime, but Hatzis performed an outstanding defense on Myers who shot an airball three pointer. As the buzzer sounded, AEK celebrated their first home victory in the Euroleague after 21 months.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
Vassilis Skountis, Athens