Joventut Badalona arrived at Maurice Thorez in a good position to reach the playoffs from Group E. Despite a home loss in Round 5 against already-eliminated Unicaja Malaga, Joventut controlled its destiny; it needed to beat Nanterre 92 on the road and could even afford to lose by up to 5 points due to its 95-90 home victory against the French powerhouse in Round 2.
Things went south quickly, however, as Nanterre surprised its opponent with a small lineup, leaving center Alpha Kaba on the bench and using Tyler Stone at the '5' position. It paid off, as Stone and Isaia Cordinier helped Nanterre to a 25-17 lead late in the first quarter.
Joventut needed a go-to guy and found one in Ante Tomic. It may be his first EuroCup season, but Tomic was by far the most experienced big man in this game. Joventut ran its offense through Tomic, who finished the first quarter with 14 points. Joventut trailed 29-26 after 10 minutes.
Once Joventut adjusted its defense, the game changed. Joventut capitalized on Nanterre's mistakes, before and after the break. Neno Dimitrijevic, Ferran Bassas and Conor Morgan combined for all of the visitors' points in a 2-12 run that put Joventut ahead for good, 41-47, soon after the break. Xabi Lopez Arostegui had 6 points in a 0-11 run that Albert Ventura capped with a three-pointer to break the game open, 47-61.
Nanterre kept trying until the end and managed to get within 80-84 in the next-to-last minute. Joventut did not panic and found two-time EuroCup champion Pau Ribas, who made 9 free throws without a miss in the final 72 seconds to ensure that Joventut traveled back home with a win and a playoff ticket.
Ribas had 16 points and recorded the club's second-most free throws in a game without a miss (11). Klemen Prepelic downed 12 free throws in as many attempts against Tofas Bursa on January 22, 2020. Tomic and Ribas did what veteran players are supposed to do in big games: make the difference.
"I think we played a really good game and deserve [to be in the playoffs] after a very good season in the EuroCup. We go for the next chapter," Ribas said after the game. "We had the bad luck to play against one of the top teams in the EuroCup [Virtus Segafredo Bologna]. They didn't lose any game and it is going to be a tough series, but it will be tough for them, too, because we have no pressure. We are a young team with a lot of ambition, and we will try to get the win to Badalona."
Joventut will not have the home-court advantage in its playoff series against Virtus, but it offers the club a historical chance for sporting revenge. In 1992, Joventut lost the EuroLeague Championship Game against Partizan Belgrade, 71-70 in Istanbul, Turkey. Sasa Djordjevic buried the game-winning shot in the final seconds, allowing Partizan to grab its first - and to date only - EuroLeague title. Djordjevic now coaches Virtus. Ribas was 5 years old when Djordjevic hit that shot and head coach Carles Duran was 16.
Action resumes for Virtus and Joventut in Game 1 of the quarterfinals, set to take place at Virtus Segafredo Arena on Tuesday, February 23.