Things did not look very good for Herbalife Gran Canaria halfway through the Top 16. Gran Canaria was at the bottom of the standings with a 0-3 record after consecutive losses to Mornar Bar, UNICS Kazan and MoraBanc Andorra. Two of those losses, against Mornar Bar and Andorra, came at Gran Canaria Arena.
Head coach Porfi Fisac's team was in a do-or-die situation for the rest of the Top 16 and it overcame injuries and departures to keep its chances alive. First, it beat Andorra 74-79 on the road, gaining a tiebreak advantage that proved to be critical down the stretch. Gran Canaria went on to defeat Mornar Bar 81-85 in Montenegro, also snagging the tiebreaker. That allowed Gran Canaria to hold its destiny in its own hands - a home win against UNICS would send the Spanish club into the EuroCup Quarterfinals, regardless of any other score.
It was not an easy task, of course. UNICS arrived to this game undefeated in the Top 16, and needed to beat Gran Canaria to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. It didn't happen, as Gran Canaria played close-to-perfect on offense for 30 minutes to take the go-ahead victory.
A.J. Slaughter and John Shurna combined for all the points in an opening 10-2 run which allowed Gran Canaria to lead the game from start to finish. Tomas Dimsa, Matt Costello and Slaughter each struck from downtown, and big man Aleksander Balcerowski added a three-point play that made it a double-digit game, 28-16. Gran Canaria boosted its margin 31-17 after 10 minutes and then again to 47-30 at halftime.
Gran Canaria had better shooting percentages in the first half, which decided the game. Gran Canaria (65.0% 2FG, 42.9% 3FG, 92.9% FT) shot the ball much better than UNICS (55.0% 2FG, 27.3% 3FG, 81.8% FT) and had 14 assists to just 4 turnovers. UNICS had 7 assists and just as many turnovers before the break.
Gran Canaria was without two of its main backcourt players, Stan Okoye and former All-EuroCup First Team choice Andrew Albicy, but Slaughter had an outstanding performance. He finished the game with 24 points on 4-of-9 three-point shooting plus 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block and 5 fouls drawn for a PIR of 22.
"I am exhausted! It was a tough game for us. Everybody knows we are missing two key players, but we fought tonight," Slaughter said right after the game. "We had a 0-3 start in the EuroCup [Top 16] and always believed we could get to this moment and win this game to get us back to the playoffs."
Gran Canaria completed its comeback and is set to play against Boulogne Metropolitans 92 in the quarterfinals. After reaching the EuroCup Finals in 2015, Gran Canaria will see if Slaughter and co. can lead them deep again.