After having started the season with three losses, AEK completed its comeback as Group B contender when it turned back visiting Montepaschi Siena 75-71 in Athens, Greece on Wednesday night. Both teams are now tied at 5-5, good enough for at least a share of the fourth spot in the Group C standings. Nikos Hatzis led the winners again with 17 points, making 4 of 6 three-pointers. Quadre Lollis added 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting and 6 rebounds, Nikos Zizis posted 15 points and 7 rebounds, and Pero Antic had 10 points in 15 minutes for the winners. Bootsy Thornton had 19 points for Montepaschi, David Vanterpool 16 points, Giacomo Galanda and Roberto Chiacig 10 each. AEK used a 16-4 that bridged the second and third quarters to break the game open and held a 17-point lead until late in the game when a Montepaschi rally ran out of time.
The first shot but also the first foul of the game were made by former Montepaschi forward, and former AEK leader, Mikalis Kakiouzis. Lollis scored a basket-plus-free throw followed by another easy post layup to give the hosts an early 6-0 lead. AEK's defense was the master early. Vanterpool didn't score Montepaschi's first basket until 3 minutes, 20 second had passed, but soon he was up to 7 points, including a three-pointer and a basket in traffic, to trim the difference to 10-9. Hatzis drilled his first triple from the corner, carrying AEK's offense from the perimter as Lollis did in the paint. Thornton hit his own shot from the arc, however, to give Montepaschi its first lead 17-19. The visitors were able to control the defensive rebounds and grab some on offense, as well, to restart their attacks. While Hatzis had to go to the lockers to get help for a slight injury, Zisis drove to the rim to put AEK ahead 22-20 after 10 minutes.
The second quarter started with 2 scoreless minutes that Roberto Chiacig ended by tying the score 22-22 for Montepaschi. Zisis answered by exploding for 5 five points in less than 20 seconds, then reserves Giannis Bourousis and Davor Kus closed an 11-1 run that gave AEK its highest lead yet, 30-22. Hatzis came back from the lockers ready to play his usual leadership role on the court. First, however, Giacomo Galanda answered back for Montepaschi 2 of his trademark triples. Montepaschi's guards found it difficult to create their own shots, so fed the ball inside more. Chiacig, another former AEK player, dropped free throws to make the score 34-30, but Hatzis quickly popped in a triple and Antic dunked in finish the first half in enthusiastic fashion as AEK headed to the the locker rooms protecting a 39-30 lead.
The hosts continued to play tough defense and Hatzis nailed an open triple to push the AEK lead into double digits at 42-30. Having suffered poor 11-for-37 shooting during the first 22 minutes of the game, Montepaschi tried to move the ball better and look to the paint, where Chiacig was able to draw fouls and shoot free throws. Hatzis was unstoppable, however, stepping up now with a terrific four-point play - a triple and a free throw - to give hm 7 points in less than 3 minutes and raise the lead to 46-33. Toby Bailey assisted allowed Lollis on a fastbreak and added another basket to push the difference to 50-34. Montepaschi managed to score only from the free throw line before Thornton finished a well-organised fast break to make it 50-39. And when Vanterpool added a clutch layup, Zisis answered from the arc for AEK, which continued to lengthen its advantage to 61-45 after three quarters.
AEK sub Sotiris Nikolaidis scored from the perimeter and Thornton dunked ona baseline drive to open the final quarter. Both defenses held sway, however, as 6 minutes passed with both teams combining for only 15 points and Montepaschi no closer than 67-52. Galanda and Vanterpool then scored on nice moves in the paint to make it 67-56 with 3:19 to play. Montepaschi was not giving up. Thornton got to the line and made 4 free throws before AEK big man Sandro Nicevic, 0 for 8 in shooting until then, put an end to Montepaschi's 10-0 run to make it 69-62. His hook shot seemed to shut the door on the visitors, but Vanterpool offered a glimpse of hope when his three-point shot made it 71-66 with 33 seconds to go. Zissis and Lollis each drilled 1 of their 2 free throws, but Nicevic was accurate on both to end the last threat and let AEK walk off the floor as equals with mighty Montepaschi.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005