When Giampaolo Ricci hit a three-pointer for Virtus Segafredo Bologna in minute 25 of Game 2 of its 7DAYS EuroCup Quarterfinals playoff against Joventut Badalona on Friday, the best-of-three series seemed all but decided. The scoreboard showed a 23-point lead, 32-55 for Virtus, that seemed completely impossible to overcome for the hosts.
Joventut had just lost its top scorer from Game 1, swingman Xabi Lopez-Arostegui, to an ankle injury, and a few minutes later Nenad Dimitrijevic followed the same path. Missing two main contributors, Joventut was mentally down and trailing by 23. What could go wrong for Virtus?
Two words: Ferran Bassas.
Out of nowhere, the Catalan guard hit 4 straight triples -- after Joventut had started the game going 1-for-10 from the arc -- that revitalized the hosts. After those shots, he continued dishing assists and adding points and for a few minutes as Virtus went from an unstoppable steamroller to a vulnerable leader.
"It cannot be easy with the top eight teams in any competitions, is never easy. Joventut is a great team," Virtus coach Sasa Djordjevic said after the game. "They showed their character, they made some changes, they used some lineups that put up the energy. They made some great threes and they came back. We had a down face in that moment, but we closed it as we know."
When Albert Ventura hit another of those great threes Djordjevic mentioned, the scoreboard showed a 72-71 advantage for Joventut. What had seemed impossible -- a comeback from 23 points behind the span of barely 10 minutes -- had just happened. Joventut had the lead and all the momentum in the world with less than 4 minutes to play.
But Virtus refused to let it go any further.
A team filled with talent and experience, built to win titles, kept its cool and continued playing at its own rhythm regardless of the situation.
Top 16 MVP Vince Hunter was the first to come to the rescue, by scoring, grabbing rebounds and dishing assists to prove that he is still in the zone that earned him that award.
"When their second group came out, we took a step back and we made a few mistakes, but we picked it back up," Hunter said. "We were prepared for ups and downs and we expected this to happen, but closing time came and we tried to step it up."
And step it up they did. Two of the team's veteran leaders, Stefan Markovic and Milos Teodosic, hit surgical threes at the right moments. Markovic's gave some air to Virtus at 72-76 and force Joventut to keep up its insane scoring rhythm; Teodosic's doubled the difference to 75-81 with 25 seconds to go, and he made it look easy, as if Joventut's valiant effort had been admirable, but it was predestined for Virtus to take the win.
Said and done. Still unbeaten after 18 games, Virtus has confirmed this season what it already showed before the 2019-20 season came to a halt -- that the Black V is hungry, ready to win continental titles again, and eager to be back where it had always belonged in its glory years: the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
Now, Virtus has two more steps to go to lift the EuroCup trophy and win passage to the EuroLeague. For the next one, in the semifinals, Virtus knows knows that it will have to visit Russia for sure to play the Game 3 winner of the quarterfinal between UNICS Kazan and Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar. Either would be a formidable opponent, but Virtus proved again on Friday that it doesn't mind the pressure.