Another team was dropped from the ranks of the undefeated when AEK defended its homecourt with an 80-65 decision against Zalgiris in Group A on Thursday. Both teams are now 2-1 in the group, which only counts Benetton as undefeated still. AEK benefitted from a breakout game by rookie Taylor Coppenrath, who scored all 21 of his points in the first three quarters and pulled 7 rebounds. Slaven Rimac added 14 points for the hosts while making key three-pointers, while Michalis Pelekanos contributed 11 points. For Zalgiris, still without team leader Tanoka Beard due to injury, Elias Ayuso led the way 13 points, while Darjus Lavrinovic scored 11 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.
The game got under way with Coppenrath putting back an offensive rebound for AEK. Paulius Jankunas responded immediately and triggered a 2-7 run for Zalgiris. Despite back-to-back three-point plays by Coppenrath and Ioannis Kalampokis, the guests carried their momentum and remained in charge. AEK struggled to find any open shots, whereas Zalgiris kept scoring on the break. After 7 minutes, the visitors were ahead 12-19 ahead, yet AEK managed to strike back behind another three-point play, this time by Spyros Panteliadis, and a mid-range jumper by Rimac. However, thanks to consecutive drives to the basket by Serapinas, Zalgiris reached the end of the quarter up 19-23.
By the start of the second quarter, defenses took over. Ed Cota was unable to push the ball, therefore Zalgiris could not make any uncontested shots. AEK found a go-to guy in Coppenrath, who was virtually unstoppable in the paint and scored 12 points in 8 minutes. As a result, the hosts erased a six-point deficit and burst in front, 35-32. Then Kalampokis slashed to the basket to score and the crowd erupted as AEK forged a five-point lead. Down the stretch, two baskets on the fastbreak by Cota and Freeman pulled Zalgiris within 2 points, 38-36 at halftime.
The second half commenced with AEK playing even tougher defense and dominating the boards. Rimac connected from downtown, scoring AEK's first three-point shot of the night, while the tandem of Giannis Bouroussis and Coppenrath added 7 points. AEK widened the margin to double digits, 48-38, and looked firmly in charge. Still, eventually Coppenrath got tired, and Zalgiris trimmed the margin due to successive points from the free throw line. AEK seemed to be in trouble offensively, yet Amit Tamir came off the bench to score a vital jumper from the arc and help his team stay ahead, 60-52 after 30 minutes, despite Zalgiris having made 14 of 16 free throws in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Zalgiris silenced the crowd as Ayuso nailed a tirple and Jankunas converted a three-point play. However, AEK was determined to stay unbeaten at home. Rimac stepped up and with 6 points of his own to reestablish a sizable lead, 68-60. The fans burst once again into chants and Panteliadis kept them wild and boisterous with a shot from the arc and 2 free throws. Still,with under 4 minutes left, Ayuso confirmed his status as a deadly shooter and fired in another three-pointer to cut down the margin to 73-65. In the next couple of possessions, however, Ayuso missed a jumper and committed an offensive foul, unlike Pelekanos, who stroked from downtown and then stole and made a layup to put the outcome beyond question at 78-65.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Danos Tsakalos, Athens