Ulker of Istanbul made a big-city move in the Group C standings on Thursday by swiping a 71-77 road win from Olympiacos in Athens in one of the wildest games imaginable. The action swung to extremes throughout the first three quarters, with an early 0-17 run boosting Ulker to leads of almost 20 points through the first 25 minutes. Then, Olympiacos captain Milan Tomic scored 16 points in just 5 minutes to put his team ahead by a point going into the final quarter. There the scoreboard remained tight until Melvin Booker scored the big basket with 45 seconds left to complete Ulker's upset, its third against the Reds in Athens in recent history. Virginjus Praskevicjus was the top scorer for the winners with 20 points, while Joseph Blair and Booker added 19 and 15, respectively. Tomic was incredible with 19 points for Olympiacos, while Demarco Johnson had 13, Christos Charissis 11 and Nikos Boudouris and Alexis Savrasenko 10 each. Both teams are now 1-1 in Group C.
Ulker came into the game with two victories in its last three trips to Athens, and got down to business early to defend that admirable record. Using Blair's strength under the boards, where he quickly scored 8 points, the visitors commanded a 10-17 lead through the first 9 minutes. Alas, Olympiacos needed just one minute to cut the margin to a single point, 17-18, at the end of the first period. Harissis hit a big three-pointer at the buzzer to help the Reds to stay alive. By that time, Virginjus Praskevicius had scored 5 points for Ulker, but he had his third foul after only 8 minutes. DeMarco Johnson had joined the fray for Olympiakos, mixing it up under the boards for 7 points to show he wasn't going to let Blair have everything.
Ulker no doubt felt confident now, because it came out in the second quarter and literally tried to steal the game with an incredible 0-17 run! Harun Erdenay and Milan Goljovic now provided balance to the offense with great perimeter shots, while Blair just kept pounding inside to lift his scoring to 12 points. Just like that, the Turks took a lead that most visitors to Greece would die for: 17-35 after 16 minutes. But of course the Reds reacted, using the same weapons that won their first game on the road in Poland last week. Harissis hit 2 more three-pointers, Milan Tomic made his regular heroic efforts and Johnson ended the second period with 11 points. From near disaster, the Reds entered the locker room having "just" an 11-point gap, 30-41, to recover.
The third period did not start out in the home team's favor. In fact, over the first 5 minutes, Ulker not only added to its lead, but pushed it to the highest of the game, 34-52, as Praskevicius kept pouring in points. Then, out of nowhere, Milan Tomic did what streak-shooting veterans do best. He put the Reds on his back and carried them with 11 straight points! That sparked a boost of self-confidence that took the Reds on an incredible 24-5 in just 5 minutes. Nikos Boudouris added the exclamation point with three-pointer to close the quarter and take the lead, 58-57, before a joyous home crowd. With 16 points in just 5 minutes, Tomic h ad done what most players would take for a fine performance over a whole game. And what a game it had become!
The fourth quarter was a battle to the finish as the Reds had momentum and Ulker was getting its second win. Praskevicius and Booker pushed Ulker ahead slightly, but Tomic remained a protagonist, hitting his fifth three-pointer to tie the game 69-69 with 3 minutes to go. Booker was the man of the hour, however, as his basket against former Scavolini teammate Demarco Johnson finally pushed Ulker ahead for good, 69-75, with 45 seconds to go. Misan Nikagbatse had his chance to be the hero for Olympiakos, but his two shots at the end didn't find the target, and Ulker escaped with its first win of the season.
Thursday, October 17, 2002
Kostas Sotiriou, Athens