The quest for a perfect record overcame a spirited try to reach the Last 16 when Benetton Bwin held off visiting PAOK 78-69 on Tuesday in the last Group F regular season game for each. Benetton outscored PAOK 5-0 in the final minute to finish the regular season 6-0, while the loss left PAOK at 3-3 and eliminated on the short end of a head-to-head tie-break with Asefa Estudiantes. Donatas Motiejunas led the winners with 16 points, while Hrvoje Peric added 14 and Devin Smith 11. Stefan Markovic led the 15-3 assists advantage for Benetton with 4. PAOK forged 5 third-quarter ties and rallied to get close repeatedly in the final quarter but could not close the deal, ending its Eurocup season. Justin Grey and Rawle Marshall paced the visitors with 18 points each, while Lazaros Papadopoulos posted a double-double of 14 and 10 rebounds.
The visitors relied on Papadopoulos and Marshall for a quick 4-7 lead but Markovic tied from long-range for Benetton. Gray broke another tie from deep at 11-14 before Michail Giannakidis gave PAOK its biggest lead yet, 13-18, with a layup. Benetton answered with consecutive baskets by Motiejunas, Gino Cuccarolo and Markovic to re-take a lead and hold it at a minimum, 21-20, after 10 minutes. Benetton's bench quickly boosted the lead with a 13-2 run to open the second quarter as Jakub Wojciechowski poured in 6 points and Alessandro Gentile 5. Todor Gecevski stopped PAOK's slide and Giannadikis added a triple, but when Peric scored his second basket of the quarter, Benetton still led by double digits, 38-27. But there were 90 seconds left, and PAOK made the most of them as Gray scored 2 triples and 8 points in a 0-10 blast into halftime that left a 38-37 scoreboard to contemplate over the break.
The defenses ruled after the break until Motiejunas went back and forth scoring against Gecevski and Papadopoulos as the scoreboard showed three different ties going up to 46-46. Gray's free throw after a basket broke the tie in PAOK's favor, but soon the bench brigade of Gentile and Wojciechowski had pushed Benetton back in front, 53-49. That didn't stop Papadopoulos from marking the fifth tie of the quarter, 53-53, but Markovic broke that one with a layup for Benetton on the 30-minute mark. Peric and Massimo Bulleri lengthened the Benetton lead with 3 points each to open the final quarter at 61-53. Back came PAOK, however, with a triple by Marshall and free throws by Gray to get within 63-59. Again Benetton sprinted away, with a layup by Motiejunas making it 70-63, and again PAOK rallied, with Marshall cutting it to 73-69 headed into the final minute. Those 60 seconds were all Benetton, however, with Smith hitting 3 of 4 free throws to seal the victory, keeping the hosts perfect in the regular season, while keeping PAOK out of the Last 16.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010