A perennial Final Four challenger ruined the return of another Euroleague team when Efes Pilsen downed visiting Estudiantes 81-72 in a Group A game at Istanbul on Thursday. Willie Solomon scored 24 points, including 14 in the third quarter, and Henry Domercant 18 for the winners. Estudiantes came within 4 points of the lead with 2:40 to play and Solomon fouled out, but backup Ender Arslan hit 3 of 4 free throws to keep the guests down and the victory at home in Istanbul. Goran Nikolic added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the winners, while Ermal Kuqo put in 10 points. Andrae Patterson had 20 points to lead Estudiantes, while Ruben Garces had 19 and 9 rebounds, Hernan Jasen 12 and 9, respectively.
Efes had an excellent start, racing ahead 5-0 on Solomon's first triple and a layup by Nikola Prkacin just in 2 minutes. Nacho Azofra changed all that by himself, drilling 2 three-pointers in just 20 seconds to give Estudiantes a tie. Midway through the quarter, Hernan Jasen gave the visitors their first lead, 10-11, on a free throw. The man-to-man defense was intense on both sides of the floor. After the three-minute surge by Estudiantes, the defensive emphasis seemed to steady Efes, which squeezed a couple more baskets in before a dunk by Ermal Kuqo finished the first quarter with the hosts holding a 20-14 lead.
Solomon and Henry Domercant took over on offense in the second quarter, running fastbreaks until Kuqo did the honors of pushig the lead to 12 points, 26-14, with his second basket. Meanwhile, the Efes defense continued to lock up Estudiantes, who managed just 2 points in the first 5 minutes of the second period. Azofra kept his team alive with another three-pointer halfway through, cutting the difference below double-digits to 28-19. But Efes had its own answers from the arc, as Solomon, Domercant and Ender Arslan rained triples on the way to the biggest lead of the half, 41-27. Estudiantes got a basket back before the half ended 41-29, thanks in great part to a 7-3 difference in three-pointers for Efes.
At the beginning of the third quarter, Ruben Garces and Andrea Patterson duo started to battle inside for Estudiantes, forcing third fouls on Efes big men Prkacin and Ermal Kuqo. The push in the paint got Estudiantes back into the game with a 5-14 run that meant a 46-44 scoreboard, still in the 24th minute of the game. Estudiantes also strengthened pressure on Efes shooters shooters Domercant, Arslan and Cenet Akyol, but could do nothing to stop Solomon. The biggest offseason acquisiton for Efes lived up to his billing, scoring 14 points in the quarter, including a spectacular buzzer-beating jump shot that restored his team's double-digit lead, 63-52, after 30 minutes.
The final quarter saw Efes try to retain control against a big comeback effort by Estudiantes. Efes had four players with four fouls - Kuqo, Prkacin, Solomon and Akyol - which didn't help the hosts. Domercant and Kuqo kept Efes ahead, but Estudiantes trimmed the difference to 6 points, 70-64, with back-to-back dunks by Patterson. When Sergio Rodriguez sank a three-pointer with just under 4 minutes left, the score stood at 71-67. Estudiantes turned to a zone defense and Solomon left with the fifth foul, as did visiting team captain Carlos Jimenez. Arslan then took over for Solomon, sustaining Efes with 5 points in 2 minutes, while Domercant ended the game with a triple to keep the first Group A victory at home in Istanbul.
Thursday, November 4, 2004