Mornar Bar has made history by booking its first trip to the Top 16 and the proud Montenegrin club has no intentions of stopping there. With an offense capable of outscoring any opponent and plenty of room to improve on both ends of the floor, Mornar is poised to rewrite its history and make an even longer EuroCup run.
Mornar had a promising start to the season. The team presented two fantastic quarters of basketball when it built a 14-point halftime lead in the season opener at ratiopharm Ulm. Despite losing that game, Mornar followed it up with a resounding 90-80 win over Unicaja Malaga behind 24 points from Jacob Pullen and a 19-point drubbing of Germani Brescia. An 85-82 overtime win against Buducnost VOLI Podgorica in the first-ever Montenegrin derby in the EuroCup had Mornar at 3-2 halfway through the regular season. However, three consecutive defeats followed, including a 16-point home loss against Ulm, which gave Ulm the upper hand in a head-to-head tiebreaker. The run of defeats dropped Mornar to 3-5 and put its Top 16 chances in doubt. However, the team returned from the break poised for a strong finish and it did just that. Mornar's Top 16 hopes went up with an 89-78 beating of a first-place Boulogne Metropolitans 92 in a game where Pullen netted a club-record 27 points. Mornar controlled its destiny heading into Round 10 and it made sure to leave no doubts by stepping up defensively and blocking 9 shots in edging Buducnost 78-84 in a regular-season finale to finish with a 5-5 record, a win better than Ulm, and a ticket to the next phase.
Jacob Pullen is the unquestioned leader of this team and the Mornar guard delivered throughout the regular season. Pullen ranks eighth in the competition with 17.6 points per game and has netted a total of 25 triples on a career-high 40.3% shooting from long range. Pullen scored 15 or more points in eight games this season and in the last three contests, during Mornar's push to make the Top 16, he came up huge with 22.3 points on 11-for-18 (61.1%) three-point shooting plus 3.0 assists for good measure. It will be exciting to keep an eye on the 31-year-old star guard who thrives on the big stage and his performances will be a key to keep the dangerous Mornar offense humming in the coming stage.
As a starting point guard, Derek Needham is far from an unknown commodity, rather a key cog for Mornar on both ends of the floor. But Needham has gone under the radar so far this season, averaging 7.8 points and appearing in only six games this season after contracting COVID-19. However, Mornar has won four of those six. With so many offensive weapons around him, Mornar needs less of Needham's scoring and more of the 30-year old's playmaking. A leader on and off the court, he has embraced that role and delivered 11 assists in 23 minutes in a Top 16-clinching road win against Buducnost. If Needham continues to play at such a high level, Mornar could keep re-writing the club's history books this season.
Did you know?
Mornar scored at least 84 points in each of its wins and the team has not scored more than 76 points in any of its losses. There is plenty of room for improvement. Mornar ranked last during the regular season with 7.2 offensive rebounds per game and averages the fewest steals (5.4 spg.) of any team that qualified for the Top 16. Only seven Mornar players have made at least 1 three-point shot, however, five of those have made more than 10 triples so far, making Mornar ninth with 9.5 triples per game.
Qualifying for the Top 16 is a historic success for Mornar, but despite being in uncharted territory, the ambitious Montenegrin club does not intend to stop there. And, despite being a Top 16 newcomer, veterans Pullen, Kenny Gabriel and former EuroCup champion Milko Bjelica know very well what it takes to succeed at this stage. In the next phase, Mornar's defense will be put to the test in Group H against three-point happy teams such as Herbalife Gran Canaria, the EuroCup leader with 12.9 triples per game, and MoraBanc Andorra, which ranks fourth with 10.8 per contest. But if Mornar could find a bit more offensive balance, its already potent offense that can go blow-for-blow with any team in the competition, will make Mornar a dangerous opponent and a team capable of making a long run in 2021.