Benetton Treviso returned to the Final Four in high style on Thursday as Tyus Edney's halfcourt shot beat Maccabi Tel Aviv 83-84 at Thessaloniki, Greece in their showdown for first place in Group F. Benetton only had to avoid losing by 14 points to qualify, but Edney's shot struck the right note for one of the season's dominant teams as it joined already-qualified CSKA Moscow and Montepaschi Siena in the Final Four, set for Barcelona from May 9 to 11. The joy and luck of that last shot belied the nervousness of minutes before, when Maccabi led by 11, just 3 points shy of possibly stealing first place from Benetton. But in the final stretch, Marcelo Nicola did the job from the foul line while Benetton's defense took care of the other end to douse the threat. Edney's shot was needed, however, to make Benetton the only undefeated Top 16 team at 5-0. Trajan Langdon led the winners with 20 points, most of those in the first quarter. Jorge Garbajosa added 17, Nicola 15 and Massimo Bulleri 14 for Benetton. Maccabi, whose record fell to 3-2, got 20 points from Marcus Goree, 16 from Nicola Vujcic and 10 from Gur Shelef.
The game started with a couple of missed shots and turnovers. Maccabi looked to Vujcic down low for the the first basket, but soon Trajan Langdon was taking over for Benetton. He popped the first three-pointer to put the visitors ahead, then another triple and a jumper to make it 7-10. Vujcic tied the score 10-10 with a big three-pointer, however, as Maccabi refused to back down. Benetton went to Langdon for yet another basket, 10-12, and Maccabi called on Tal Burstein to try to stop him. Vujcic tied again, but Langdon could not be stopped. His third triple made it 12-15, but after Goree scored, Burstein got the line for another tie, 15-15. Benetton's pick-and-roll got Garbajosa open for a three. Massimo Bulleri invented a triple, giving Benetton 5 in 6 tries thusfar, right before the shot clock buzzer as the lead reached 17-23. A 2-10 run was completed by Nicola with a layup, and it took a triple by Shelef to pull Maccabi within 21-27 after 10 minutes. Maccabi started the second quarter with a quick 6-0 run but Langdon had another bucket to retake the lead for his team. Maccabi's defense allowed Benetton's outside shooters too much space and could not handle a big guy with the great shooting ability of Garbajosa, whose third three-pointer made it 34-39. He was up to 13 points himself by then. But with Huseyin Besok on the court and scoring 5 points, Maccabi came back once again to tie at 39-39. Mistakes kept Maccabi from consolidating its new position, however. A Besok turnover sent Garbajosa for an uncontested dunk. Another throw-away was punished by Edney on a great drive that made it 41-44. After forcing Maccabi into another offensive mistake, Benetton had the last possession of the first half and Bulleri converted it with a three-pointer. Those unanswerd points to finish the quarter left Benetton ahead 41-47 after having hit 8 of 10 three-pointers on the half.
A steal and a fastbreak by Edney to open the second half gave back Benetton its biggest lead, 8 points, at 41-49. But Maccabo started creeping closer with a three from Vujcic that made it 46-51. Vujcic missed both free throws when Maccabi trailed just 50-54 and a twisted ankle suffered by Shelef in the 27th minute was not good news at all. At that moment, Benneton was ahead by 9 points. 50-59, but that was when Maccabi chose to turn things around. Derrick Sharp buried one from downtown and Quincy Lewis slashed to the hoop to start the comeback. Goree was soon dunking to get Maccabi within 59-60. Sharp had a chance to put Maccabi over the top, but his triple at the end of the quarter missed, leaving Benetton clinging to 59-60 after 30 minutes.
Besok started the fourth quarter with two easy points and Maccabi was up to 61-60. There was something in air, waiting to happen, and it did. After a few minutes of trading baskets until a tie of 66-66, Maccabi made its move. A three-pointer by Sharp put the Israelis ahead 73-68, and then 4 consecutive free throws by Beno Udrih and a basket by Vujcic gave Maccabi the highest lead of the game, 79-68, with 4 minutes left. Nobody on either side had to be told that a 14-point win by Maccabi would go down as the biggest upset of the season and change the Final Four picture But the Benetton veterans did not let that happen. The Italians cut the lead with 5 free throws in a row made by Nicola and then a great move from Bulleri. At the end, as Maccabi led 83-81 and would have welcomed overtime, but Edney had other ideas. He through up the game's last shot from halfcourt without even looking and it went in. Benetton already had the qualification but fate seemed to send that ball in so it could have the victory on Thursday, too.
Thursday, April 10, 2003