When Partizan NIS Belgrade trailed by 18 in the second quarter on Wednesday night, even the team's most ardent fans must have doubted its ability to come back and beat Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar. But that is exactly what Saso Filipovski’s troops did with a magical comeback victory.
Partizan rallied to tie the game with 32 seconds left and got a reverse layup from Josh Perkins for a 71-69 win over Lokomotiv to stay in the race for the 7DAYS EuroCup Quarterfinals. Rashawn Thomas led the way with 23 points, scoring a club-record 11 two-point shots on 14 attempts, and Ognjen Jaramaz had 11 points, but Perkins was one of four others who tallied at least 8 points in helping Partizan move to 2-2 in Group F - with Lokomotiv behind at 1-3. Another was Eric Mika, who tallied 8 points and 6 rebounds in 11 minutes.
Things did not look good for Partizan as Jordan Crawford scored 7 points in a 6-22 run in the second quarter to build a 28-46 Lokomotiv advantage. Marcus Paige managed back-to-back three-pointers to give the hosts a ray of light going into the break down 13 points. Thomas took the Partizan offense on his shoulders and tallied 6 points in a 9-0 spurt to get within 44-50. And then it was Mika’s turn as he scored Partizan’s final 8 points of the third quarter - which matched Lokomotiv’s output in the entire quarter.
"Eric Mika definitely helped us at the center position, changing the rhythm of the game and stepping up our aggressiveness," Coach Filipovski noted in the post-game interview.
While Mika gave the hosts hope, there was much more to be done. Lokomotiv extended its 4-point lead after 30 minutes back out to 55-63 midway through the quarter. Partizan was not ready to concede. The hosts pulled within 2 points twice, but Lokomotiv each time had an answer in the closing minutes. Kevin Hervey sandwiched a pair of baskets around a three from Jaramaz to make it 66-69 inside the last minute. That's when Perkins took charge.
"We stuck together as a team. We willed this one, we wanted this one. So we willed our way to win," Perkins said, before, like a true point guard, crediting his teammates for his big shots. "I was getting a little frustrated with myself for missing some easy shots before that, but my teammates kept my head in it. They gave me the confidence to let the next two fly. My hat goes off to them. Without them keeping me in the game, not getting down on myself, I don't shoot those shots."
The first of those shots was a game-tying three with 32 seconds to go. Then, after Will Cummings committed a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play, the ball ended up in the hands of Perkins. The new arrival for the Top 16 drove to his left, but lost the ball. He was able to grab it back and then toss up a reverse layup that went in with 4.1 seconds to play. When Crawford’s three-point attempt at the buzzer was off-target, Partizan had done it, snatching a victory from the jaws of defeat.
"I’m ecstatic. We know we’re in a tight race in our group, and we believe we can finish in the top two," Thomas said after the game. "We really wanted to pull this win out. It’s big for us. That was a hell of a fight against a hell of a team. But I’m happy that we showed a lot of heart."
Especially after looking all but dead.