The Top 16 started in Ljubljana with a thriller as Olympiacos of Greece took a last-second road win over host Union Olimpija by 72-74 in Group G. Neither team managed to take big leads after Olympiacos raced ahead by 10 points a couple times in the first quarter. After that, the last 30 minutes were balanced until Union Olimpija took a five-point lead that looked decisive for the win. But two Olympiacos veterans decided otherwise. Nenad Markovic's final points and two free throws by Milan Tomic with 8 seconds left let the Reds escape with their first win in Group G at one of the places where visitors have found it toughest to win this season. Tomic led all scorers with 27 points, and hit 7 of 11 three-pointers, while Markovic added 16 and DeMarco Johnson bagged 13. For Union Olimpija, Goran Jurak led the way with 16 points and Roberts Stelmahers added 13. Olympiacos is 1-0 and joins Barcelona in first place in Group G, while Olimpija falls to 0-1.
The Reds controlled the tempo of the game in the first plays thanks to the inspiration of DeMarco Johnson and Maurice Evans, who put their team ahead at 4-10. The zone defense tried by Olympiacos coach Lefteris Subotic gave inmediate results as the young players of Union Olimpija weren't very accurate from long range. Two free throws by Johnson gave the guests a second double-digit lead at 12-22 after a previous 8-18, and also put the player into double digits of scoring. Jurak emerged as the main offensive pillar of Union Olimpija, however, and with 4 points in a row cut the deficit down to 16-22. The last plays of the quarter earned Olympiacos a 21-28 lead after 10 minutes.
The face of the game changed completely early in the second quarter, as after some quick plays, a triple by Vlatko Ilievski put the hosts ahead by 1 point after a 8-0 run, 29-28. Tomic replied also from the arc to get the Reds going again. Ignacio De Miguel tried to hard to make something happen inside for the visitors, but despite the absence of real big men, Union Olimpija managed to contain him. On the other hand, Markovic scored some key points midway through the quarter to put the Reds ahead with an important lead, 33-39. But the hosts reacted again with some incredible triples as Jasmin Hukic nailed a bomb for 38-39 with less than 2 minutes to go before the break. Markovic wasn't enough to stop the improved game of the Slovenian team in the last minutes, and a three-pointer by Ilievski helped his team hit the lockerrooms with a 44-44 tie at halftime.
After resumption, Olympiacos had to face an important handicap with the fourth foul called on Johnson, but Tomic soon took control of the Reds' offense. The game remained balanced throughout, as neither team managed to forge an important lead. The ties continued at 51-51 as both sides showed tight defenses that wouldn't allow the rival to think on offense. De Miguel scored his first points from the charity line for the 55-55 tie, but Jurak, the most active player for Union Olimpija, replied with a three-point play that set the stands on fire. After 30 minutes though, the score was balanced again at 58-58.
Johnson was back on court for the decisive quarter, but in the first play he was already disqualified with a fifth foul which allowed Ilievski to start the quarter for Union Olimpija with a three-point play, 61-58. It was Tomic's three that put the Reds ahead again but a 9-2 run for the hosts for 70-65, allowed Olimpija to face the last minutes with confidence. The good individual defense of the hosts started to vanish as plays went by, and Olympiacos tied the game again at 70-70 with less than 2 minutes to go after Markovic's triple. Markovic scored two free throws for 70-72, which were answered by Stelmahers with a long-range jumper to tie again at 72-72. Jurak's foul over Tomic with 8 seconds to go allowed the best offensive man of the Reds hit the two decisive free throws that would put Olympiacos ahead for good, 72-74. In the last play after timeout, Stelmahers took responsibility and tried to solve the game with a coast-to-coast drive, but his layup didn't go though and the fans saw how the first loss fell on their team on its home court.
Thursday, February 27, 2003