Partizan Mobtel seemed to do all it needed to in order to make 7,000 fans happy on Thursday in Belgrade, but despite beating AEK 78-71, neither the winners nor losers reached the Top 16 at the end of the night. Both teams shared a 6-8 in Group A at the end of the regular season, joining Pau-Orthez and Union Olimpija, who won their respective games, in a four-way tie for the fourth spot in this group. The first tiebreaker - head-to-head results among those four tied teams - put Olimpija (4-2) in fourth place and dropped Partizan (2-4) to seventh. Pau-Orthez (3-3) and AEK (3-3) tied for fifth now, but the next tiebreaker went to the French champs for having won their two games by +2 points, dropping AEK to sixth place. The last Top 16 berth went to the best sixth-place team overall, and in that comparison AEK was tied with Zalgiris of Group B and Idea Slask of Group C, all with 6-8 records. However, the first cross-group tiebreaker, global point difference for the entire regular season, went easily to Zalgiris (+0) against AEK (-33) and Slask (-53). It was a difficult ending, indeed, for two teams who had the Top 16 practically in their grasp. Nenad Krstic led the winners with 25 points on 10 of 17 two-pointers and 5 of 6 free throws. Dusan Kecman added 15 points, Gerald Brown 14 and Djuro Ostojic 10 and 6 rebounds for Partizan. Horace Jenkins had 19 points for AEK, while Nikos Zisis added 15, Quadre Lollis had 13 and Nikos Hatzis 11 for the guests.
Brown and Ostojic gave Partizan an early 4-0 lead. Christos Tapoutos was the only AEK scorer in the starting 5 minutes with 4 points while on the other side, Kecman scored two points and three from the line and hosts led 11-4 when AEK center Panteleimon Papaioakem committed his third personal. However, AEK reacted with a 2-5 run for 13-9, and Andreas Glyniadakis and Lollis's points AEK cut the margin to one single points some plays later, 16-15. Both teams played hard in defense but the surprise was the high scoring because it was expected low due to the importance of the duel. Partizan won the first period 23-19 after Brown hit the jumper.
When Kecman and Goran Cakic scored at the beginning of the second period, the hosts led 27-19. However, Horace Jenkins, who had been rather quiet during the first ten minutes, started to score at his usual level in the next three minutes scoring 8 consecutive points. After his second triple, AEK tied the score 27-27 but Partizan answered with a 9-2 run which started with Vule Avdalovic's three-pointer, the first for Partizan in the game. Krstic was already in double digits of scoring when his 11th point fell, but with 3 minutes to go in the first half, when the hosts led 36-29, Jenkins and Predrag Materic traded triples again. For the guests though, Lollis was also effective as he scored four baskets without miss to help Jenkins from the inside. Djuro Ostojic scored from second chance for 41-35 but Nikos Hatzis made one from downtown and two from the line for a minimum Partizan 41-40 lead after the first half.
Partizan opened the third with a zone defense, and it worked for some minutes, as Partizan used a 6-2 opening run highlighted by a three-pointer by Vule Advalovic to extend its lead to 47-42, after a basket by Krstic. Partizan controlled the game with a balanced offense, looking for Krstic in the middle, while Hatzis was the only player to find the basket for AEK. The guests needed a go-to guy and Zisis stepped up. He made a three-point play and added two bombs from downtown once Jenkins went to the bench, enough to bring AEK back to life at 57-56. The guests failed to get the lead, as both teams struggled to score late in the third. Two free throws by Krstic and a final layup by Brown were good enough to give Partizan a 61-58 lead entering the fourth.
AEK knew that it needed a win to make it to the next round, as the guests tied the game at 62-62 with 2 free throws by Sotiris Nikolaidis and a layup by Lollis. Both teams were playing very physical defense, hustling for every ball. A three-pointer by Brown and a basket in the low post by Ostojic gave Partizan a 67-62 lead, but Jenkins returned to the floor and scored 5 points, while Blagota Sekulic added a layup to make it a one-point game at 70-69. Krstic and Jenkins exchanged baskets, while free throws by Kecman and Ostojic helped the hosts to get a 74-71 lead already in the final minute. AEK failed to score in the final 90 secons, while Brown and Kecman drilled two free throws apiece to seal the win for the hosts. Olimpija managed to beat Cibona in OT, and both teams failed to make it to the Top 16.
Thursday, February 19, 2004