Making a surprise, last-chance bid to stay in the running for the Top 16, Union Olimpija rallied for a 68-77 road win over AEK in Athens on Thursday in Group A. The Olimpija victory had the effect of clinching fifth place in Group A for another team, Bamberg. But with a 4-8 record, Olimpija can still dream about qualifying as the best sixth-place team in the competition. That is less likely now for AEK, whose record dropped to 3-9. Yotam Halperin was the big gun for the winners, with 26 points and 6 assists. His backcourt mate, Teemu Rannikko, followed with 16 points. AEK got 18 points from Taylor Coppenrath, 12 from Spiros Panteliadis and 10 from Lionel Chalmers, plus 11 rebounds from Giannis Bouroussis. The lead went back and forth for more than three quarters, until the middleo of the fourth, when a 4-12 run by Olimpija featured back-to-back triples by Halperin that proved decisive for the visitors.
Despite the freezing temperatures, Olimpija looked hot early, bursting in front 2-8 as Halperin got going with 4 points. AEK was not energetic on defense, so Halperin and Rannikko took advantage, pushing the guests ahead 10-17 after 6 minutes. That's when powerhouse Giannis Bouroussis came in to tighten up the AEK defense, allowing the hosts to pull within 16-19 on a series of free throws. A long jumper by Giannis Kalampokis made it a one-point game. Halperin scored on a drive, while Coppenrath's first basket came on a slippery post move, but Olimpija still clung to a 22-23 lead when the first quarter ended.
The second quarter opened with neither team letting the other score until AEK's Lionel Chalmers got his first points, adding more a few possessions later to give teh hosts a 30-26 advantage. Kalampokis was doing a good job of containing Halperin and Olimpija was forced to call a timeout. The tide was clearly in favor of the hosts now. A triple from the corner by Michalis Pelekanos ignited a 7-0 run that was capped with a jumper by Kalampokis for a 37-28 lead. Olimpija then abandoned its small lineup with DeMarco Johnson at center. Halperin found some space and flashed his way to the basket. His move awakened his teammates and Olimpija, with a final layup in transition by Szymon Szewczyk, managed to trim the margin at the
The second half commenced with Panteliadis feeding Panteleimon Papaioakeim for an easy basket and a free throw to make it 40-35. Halperin connected from downtown, however, giving him 6-for-6 shooting from the floor at that point, and Manuchar Markoishvili drained another triple to put Olimpija in front 40-41 after 23 minutes. AEK could not find any open shots but Pelekanos provided a much-needed spark. He first scored a basket and then stole and assisted Coppenrath on the break for what became a three-point play and a 47-43 lead for the hosts. Markoishvili sank his second triple, but Chalmers and Coppenrath contributed 7 points to keep AEK in the driver's seat, 53-46. Olimpija started seeing the seeds of its comeback as Marko Antonijevic's jumper from the arc in closed the third quarter at 57-54.
As the final quarter got underway, defenses took over. AEK went scoreless for more than 2 minutes and within the first 5 minutes the hosts scored only a basket with Kalampokis. As a result, it wasn't long before Union Olimpija grabbed the lead. Halperin was a true general on the floor, dictating the tempo and dishing assists. As though that wasn't enough, he loaded his three-point pistol and buried consecutive triples to put Union ahead 63-68. Panteliadis hit a pair of free throws at the 2:39 mark, but Halperin was determined to give his team its first away win. He stepped up once again and with 5 points down the stretch, ultimately sealed the outcome, as the Olimpija margin soared to double digits, as did its hopes for a possible Top 16 chance in the last two weeks.
Thursday, January 26, 2006