The battle at the bottom of Group A to get a first victory was as fierce as any for first place on Thursday as Alba Berlin rallied in overtime for an 87-88 on the road against AEK in Lamia, Greece. DeJuan Collins scored 9 of his 19 points in the extra period to assure the victory, which gives Alba a record of 1-3. Jovo Stanojevic shook off foul trouble to add 17 points for the winners. Quadre Lollis added 15 and 8 rebounds and Marko Pesic 12 points. AEK, which led by double digits early in the game, got 19 points from Mikalis Kakiouzis, 17 each from John Rillie and Andrew Betts, and 14 from Rodney Blakney, but it was not enough to avoid falling to 0-4 overall.
John Rillie, who was supposed to leave the team two weeks ago, led AEK at the beginning of the game. The Australian shooting guard scored 7 of AEK's first 9 points, more already than in his three previous Euroleague games combined. That was good enough to oblige Alba coach Emir Mutapcic to call timeout after 4 minutes of play. Kakiouzis matched Rillie's 7 points in the next minutes as the AEK lead reached 14-4 despite the defensive changes made by Alba, a zone defense which didn't cause serious problems to the Yellows. Meanwhile, the home team's defense was responsible for increasing the tempo due to constant ball pressure and sometimes a trapping zone press which forced tough shots on Alba. The biggest margin for AEK was 13 points, 17-4, at 2 minutes and 20 seconds before the end of the first quarter. Quadre Lollis stepped up with a couple baskets for Alba, which was able to limit the damage to 21-10 after 10 minutes.
The changes made by both teams at the beginning of the second quarter helped Alba more than AEK. Nikos Zissis suffered consecutive turnovers for AEK, while Marco Pesic led Alba's bench players in drawing their team closer and closer on the scoreboard. Pesic hit a jumper to cut the margin to 27-21 midway through the quarter. Although they missed center Jovo Stanojevic, who had committed his third personal foul, the Germans were then dominating the game, while AEK struggled to find good ball movement and shots. Stefano Garris cut the margin for Alba to just 1 point, 29-28, and Kevin Rankin took the opportunity of tying it, 32-32, just 25 seconds before the half. That left time enough, however, for Zissis to foul Juan De Collins on the perimeter, allowing him to make all three free throws for a 32-35 lead for the visitors at the break. Rillie who didn't play at all during the second period, was the best scorer for AEK, with 9 points. Pesic led Alba's scorers with 8 points.
Nothing changed dramatically to start the third quarter. Alba continued its solid game, getting several fastbreak opportunities and dominating the boards, thanks to Lollis and Stanojevic. AEK center Andrew Betts committed his fourth personal foul, so he was obliged to seat on the bench. With Demos Dikoudis still out of action, home coach Dragan Sakota was obliged to play Pero Antic at center, which allowed Stanojevic to be the boss in the paint. With consecutive baskets by him and Lollis, Alba took a nine-point lead, 43-52, after 26 minutes. But here came Rillie, and he came up big, with 2 three-pointers that gave oxygen to AEK. Those 6 points and a three-point play by Vassilis Kikilias drew AEK within 54-55 just a half-minute before the quarter ended. But in that time, Alba took advantage of a fragrant foul by Kikilias against Teoman Ozturk to reutnr the lead to 5 points, at 54-59.
AEK managed to recover at the beginning of the fourth quarter thanks to its defense and the combo of Kikilias and Antic, the latter of whome sank a three-pointer to tie the game, 61-61, after 32 minutes. Alba was nervous now, as evidenced by turnovers. Kakiouzis scored a basket-plus-foul and suddenly AEK had its first lead in 15 minutes, 64-61. A thriller was underway. Alba regained the lead, 64-65, but then AEK's Rodrick Blackney hit a big three to make it 67-65 with 4 minutes left. Collins then made an acrobatic shot and the free throw that came with it, but Antic answered for AEK to preserve a 72-68 edge. The drama continued with Mithat Demirel's three-pointer, for 72-71. Seconds later, Alba shot ahead again on a Collins basket, 72-74, but then Betts returned to the court to tie it 74-74. In the final minute, Demirel hit another big shot for a 74-76 Alba advantage, but just 12 second before the end, Blackney, having been fouled by Demirel, tied it again from the foul line. The two point guards switched roles, and at the line, Demirel gave Alba a two-point lead, 76-78, with 9 seconds left. The last play was another foul, made by Pesic on Kakiouzis, who made his free throws, too, to send the teams to overtime tied 78-78.
Collins, who looked to the Greek fans like a clone of David Rivers, gave Alba a four-point lead, 78-82, to start overtime, but everything was still open. Betts came up big to cut the margin, to 81-82, then Collins hit 2 free throws, before a three-point basket-plus-foul by Kakiouzis tied the game 84-84. Lollis now scored for Alba, but Blackney's free throw kept AEK close at 85-86. Collins was once again at the right place, the right moment, as he sank an extremely difficult shot, good for 85-88. Betts answered with 2 free throws and then AEK tried to win the game, but Kakiouzis passed the last ball to Antic, whose three-point attempt missed. Like that, Alba left the court celebrating its first Euroleague win.
Thursday, October 31, 2002