A Euroleague finalist from last season is officially alive and kicking again. Benetton Treviso blasted previously undefeated Efes Pilsen, 78-89 in Istanbul on Wednesday for its first win of the season in Group C. Benetton is now 1-2 and Efes 2-1 in the group table. All Benetton needed, apparently, was the return of injured forwards Jorge Garbajosa and Marcelo Nicola, who scored 18 points and drilled 4 three-pointers each. Garbajosa led the winners with 7 rebounds, while Nicola had 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals, all in just 19 minutes. Maurice Evans added 14 points, Tyus Edney and Denis Marconato 10 each for Benetton, which led throughout the game. Kaya Peker was the main man for Efes with 17 points, while Antonio Granger put up 16 points and 8 rebounds. Ender Arslan, subbing for injured point guard Kerem Tunceri, had 14 points, the same as former Benetton player Trajan Langdon for Efes.
The bad news started for Efes almost 24 hours before tipoff, when point guard Kerem Tunceri suffered an ankle injury in practice that will sideline him for three weeks. Then Benetton hit the court ready to turn its season around in one night. That Nicola was in the starting lineup was a sign of Benetton's resolve. But first the visitors hit Efes with its own favorite weapon: defense. The home team struggled to find points from the very start. Benetton was confident enough to attack the Efes defense quickly. Benetton was especially strong inside with Marconato and and Garbajosa. Riccardo Pittis did his job very well by locking Efes scorer Antonio Granger while Evans also stopped Langdon in the first half. With Nicola and Garbajosa stepping out for threes also, Benetton jumped to an 11-19 lead after 7 minutes on a basket by substitute Giullerme Giovannoni. Also off the bench came Massimo Bulleri to drill a last-second three-pointer, the first of his 3 on the night, to put the guests up 16-25 after 10 minutes.
With losses in its first two games, Benetton wasn't going to give up the newfound comfort of a big lead. In the second period, the visitors advanced easily by forcing more turnovers on Efes. With a 2-12 run over the first 4 minutes, the Benetton lead soared near 20 points, to 18-37, on a layup by Evans. Efes then woke up from its sleep but at the same time, the Italians were not grabbing their pillows. Efes tried harder now, but still the sticky defense of Benetton forced the hosts into difficult shot attempts. With a little push from Langdon, Nikola Prkacin and Kaya Peker, however, Efes was able to reduce the difference to 26-37 in the 17th minute. Evans kept Benetton from giving up any more, however, and the first half closed with the visitors solidly in front, 33-46.
Efes tried to make a stand after the break, and seemed both warmer on offense and more aggressive on defense returning from the locker room. Peker scored consecutively inside, but Garbajosa answered with a three-pointer and Nicola added his own basket. As much as Efes tried, it never seemed like anything but Benetton's day, even when Granger's three-pointer reduced the margin to 8 points, 50-58, after 27 minutes. But whenever Benetton needed one, it saw an open three-pointer of its own, enough to eventually finish the night 13 for 24 from downtown. More than half of those bombs, 7 in all, came in the third quarter, most them came in the last 5 minutes, and they alone were enough to kill the hopes of the Efes fans. Indeed, the quarter ended with Giovannoni hitting a triple in the closing seconds for a 52-67 Benetton advantage after 30 minutes.
That Benetton was unstoppable tonight was proven definitively when Nicola opened the last period with another three-pointer for a 52-70 scoreboard. Efes joined the race with young guard Ender Arslan and Langdon. But the defensive errors caused the home side to remain behind. Halfway through the quarter, Arslan's foul points made it 69-78, single digits with sufficient time remaining. But after Nicola was called for his fifth foul, Evans took charge and hit a three-pointer for a 14-point lead, 69-83, with 4 minutes left. Benetton controlled the remaining minutes and maintained a double-digit lead to the finish without letting Efes or its fans have any hope for a late rally.
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul