Sluc Nancy remained in the hunt for second place in Group A when it topped AEK 76-85 in Athens on Tuesday. Nancy improved to 6-3 and will clinch second place with a win over Hemofarm next week. The loss officially eliminated AEK, which fell to 2-7, from the elimination rounds. The hosts built an early double-digit lead, but Cedrick Banks and Tariq Kirksay carried Nancy back. The game was close till midway through the fourth quarter, but AEK struggled to make its free throws down the stretch and Cyril Julian led Nancy to the win. Julian finished with 22 points and 9 rebounds, Branko Milisavljevic added 15, Maxime Zianveni and Kirksay had 13 each and Banks 12. Kirksay also had 10 rebounds and 5 assists while playing all 40 minutes. Nestoras Kommatos led AEK with 19, Prodromos Nikolaidis added 18, Jasmin Perkovic 12 and Brent Scott had 10 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. AEK finished 16-for-27 (59.2%) from the line.
AEK started out determined and rushed ahead 12-4 thanks to a three-point display by Nikolaidis. Nancy struggled offensively in the early going, making only 2-of-9 shots that were mostly from short-range. Scoring machine and ULEB Cup rebounding leader Kirksay finally got his name on the scoreboard with a bucket off an offensive rebound, only to be bettered by Kommatos, who buried a triple for a 15-8 lead. However, with the guests dominating the boards and veteran Julian picking up the scoring slack, it wasn’t long before Nancy pulled within 17-16 with three minutes to go. Nancy coach Jean-Luc Monschau took a timeout, yet surprisingly it was AEK that took advantage of it and soon Perkovic scored a hook shot to cap an 8-0 run that allowed the hosts to take a 25-16 advantage after 10 minutes. The second period commenced with AEK remaining on the driver’s seat, as Nikolaidis continued to punish the defense. Milisavljevic responded with a three-pointer and Zianveni came in off the bench to copy him and trim the lead to 29-22. Ioannis Gagaloudis sandwiched a triple between baskets by Milisavljevic and Julian to hold a 34-26 advantage for AEK and moments later the frontcourt tandem of Scott and Perkovic propelled AEK to another double-digit lead. Nancy was clearly in trouble, as its usual go-to-guy, Kirksay struggled offensively. Still, a pair of turnovers by AEK and a 5-point explosion by Banks helped Nancy to shake off its slow start and claw its way back to 40-35. Banks and Kommatos exchanged triples and then Christos Tapoutos converted two free-throws to give AEK a promising 49-42 halftime advantage.
Banks opened the second half determined to put his team in front, as he first fed Julian for an easy layup and then contributed a drive and two from the charity stripe. Nikolaidis misfired from downtown and on the next possession Banks found Milisavljevic for a three-pointer and a 49-51 lead – Nancy's first of the game. Nikolaidis put an end to the visitors 0-9 run, yet Nancy was now the better and more confident team, as proved by the brilliant behind-the-back pass from Milisavljevic to Julian that led to a 51-55 advantage and an AEK timeout. Kommatos ended AEK's 5-minute draught with a triple and on the other end AEK picked up its defensive intensity to put a stop on Nancy. Perkovic bricked two free throws, but Gagaloudis buried a wild triple that restored a 61-59 lead for the hosts. AEK wasn’t able to capitalize on consecutive rebounds and kept missing free throws, so when Kirksay got going – scoring points, grabbing rebounds and dishing assists – Nancy vaulted ahead 63-68 with one period left. Both teams were locked in a battle at 66-70, until Kirksay scored on a layup. AEK tried to bounce back from beyond the arc with no success and coach Vangelis Alexandris chose a lineup with Tapoutos at power forward in order to push the tempo and create some open shots. With 5:36 to go, Tapoutos broke the silence, but then missed two from the line and a nearly unstoppable Kirksay added 2 more points in his bag. The hosts seemed to collapse mentally and when Nikos Vetoulas bricked two more from the line, it was evident that free throw shooting had turned all of a sudden into an insurmountable obstacle for AEK. All Nancy had to do now was to dictate the tempo and keep its composure. So it did and, with Julian as its main offensive weapon, cruised to the away victory 76-85.
Tuesday, January 9, 2007