Milan secures home win from the line
AX Armani Exchange Milan finished the first leg of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague with a 73-72 home win over Zenit Basket on Friday night. Two free throws by Kaleb Tarczewski with one second left made it 73-69, rendering a buzzer beating three by Vladislav Trushkin redundant in the end. The game was tight and saw several ties, as neither team was able to build a double-digit lead over the 40 minutes. Milan improves to 9-8 to keep a playoff spot, while Zenit drops to 4-13 and remains at the bottom of the standings. Vladimir Micov led all Milan scorers with 13 points and Kaleb Tarczewski posted 11 points and 9 boards, followed by Arturas Gudaitis and Luis Scola with 10 points apiece. Gustavo Ayon scored 15 points and pulled down 7 rebounds for Zenit, while Austin Hollins, Andrew Albicy and Will Thomas added 14, 12 and 11 points respectively.
The hosts had a strong start led by Sergio Rodriguez, who scored a triple and a nice layup for an early 9-3 lead before leaving the court after he committed his second foul. Zenit took advantage to come within 11-8 thanks to a corner trey by Tim Abromaitis, and the visiting team tied it at 17-17 after a monster left-handed put-back dunk by Austin Hollins. The first basket by newcomer Keifer Sykes allowed Milan to finish the first period leading 21-19. Six points in a row by Albicy put the visitors in front 22-25, and Albicy remained hot with a corner three-pointer, followed by a shot-clock beating floater by Gustavo Ayon and another bomb by Will Thomas that extended the margin to 29-35. Milan found some relief from the free throw line, with Vladimir Micov, Sykes and Amadeo Della Valle combining to tie the game at 41-41 at halftime. Defenses prevailed early in the third quarter, but the scoring drought ended for the hosts when Scola hit back-to-back three pointers to make it 51-44. Zenit responded strongly, holding Milan scoreless for more than three minutes. A turn-around bank shot by Mateusz Ponitka and a nice fastbreak dunk by Ayon sparked a 0-7 run that Thomas capped with a free throw to tie it again, 51-51. Dmitri Khvostov took over with a three-pointer and a bank shot to send Zenit ahead, 55-56, at the end of the third. It stayed close early in the third, as Rodriguez came up big from downtown but Ayon responded with a powerful alley-oop dunk to tie it at 63-63. Free throws by Gudaitis and a fastbreak layup by Micov seemed to break it for the hosts entering the last two minutes, but Albicy came to the rescue with a three-pointer to make it 69-68. Gudaitis banked a shot at the low post to extend it to 71-68, and Zenit had the ball to send the game to overtime, but Rodriguez fouled Hollins to prevent a three-point attempt. Hollins hit the first and missed the second on purpose, as Tarczewski grabbed the rebound and hit both from the free throw line to seal the outcome.
Tight game, tight end
Neither Milan nor Zenit were able to build big margins over the entire game. The hosts’ largest advantage was 7 points (15-8), while the visitors couldn’t go further up than 29-35 late in the second quarter. The biggest gap in the last was just 4 points, and that came at the end of the game when Kaleb Tarczewski hit twice from the line with one second to go.
Ice-cool from the line
The hosts didn’t have a great shooting night from the field. Milan was below 50% on two-point shooting and below 30% from deep, but was calm enough to secure key points from the free throw line. The host scored 23 out of 27, as seven in a row allowed Milan to tie the game at halftime and another two by Tarczewski sealed the win.
Newcomer Keifer Sykes made his Euroleague debut with Milan. He had to step on court pretty early because of Sergio Rodriguez’s foul trouble and the absences of Shelvin Mack and Nemanja Dedovic. He finished with 5 turnovers and -4 in PIR, but he also contributed 7 key points as his team won the game.
Giants in the paint
Kaleb Tarczewski and Gustavo Ayon were the best ranked players on each side, posting 24 and 19 PIR respectively. Their fight under the boards was one of the most compelling battles in the game.
Round 18 will see Milan welcome Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, while Zenit travels across Russia to face Khimki Moscow Region.
Friday, January 3, 2020