If it is Group D, you have to expect the unexpected. AEK didn't do that on Wednesday, and now it has lost sole possession of first place and is one of the many scraping for a top-four finish to reach the next round. One of the most thrilling games of the season saw Scavolini Pesaro escape with a big 68-70 victory from Athens on Melvin Booker's two-point buzzer beater. The 13-point second-half comeback by the visitors allowed Scavolini to tie AEK for first place, with both teams at 7-4 in this fascinating group. Booker had an outstanding performance, with 25 points, most of them in the second half. He did it all, making 6 of 9 two-pointers, 4 of 6 threes and dishing a floor-high 8 assists. What's more he scored the last 6 points for Scavolini, breaking an AEK home winning streak that had reached 12 games between the Euroleague and the Greek League.
From tipoff onward, both teams tried to apply their own tempo in a totally balanced game. AEK, led by J.R. Holden took an early 11-7 lead after four minutes, but Scavoloni came up big, first to tie the game at 14-14 and then to take the lead, 16-17, on a three-pointer made by Brad Traina. At the end of the first quarter, a 20-20 tie was the absolute proof of the balance and the prelude to a very interesting game. Holden had already scored 11 points, followed by Demos Dikoudis, Miroslav Beric and Traina with 5 each.
Great defense both on the perimeter and in the paint, plus good offensive ball movement, allowed AEK to open the gap to 7 points, 33-26, after 16 minutes. Scavolini was not about to let the home team get too far away, however. The visitors cut the margin to 35-31, but with three minutes until the half, Scavolini coach Stefano Pillastrini turned his defense from individual to zone. This decision backfired, giving Jim Bilba the opportunity to sink two consecutive three-pointers, leading to AEK's first double-digit lead, 43-32, going into the break. Holden was now up to 15 points, with Dikoudis and Bilba on 10 each, but Dikoudis and Andrew Betts also had three fouls, the same as Scavolini forward Marco Tusek. The visitors were led in scoring by Miroslav Beric with 7 points, which frankly seemed too little compared to the pace being set by AEK.
That double-digit lead actually grew in AEK's favor after halftime, hitting 13 points on two occasions, at 45-32 and 47-34. Scavolini just ignored the message. By that time the Italian team was playing excellent defense and beginning to find its offensive arms. Booker just exploded, scoring 10 points during the third quarter to lead his team on a 4-17 run. Before anyone in Athens knew it, Demarco Johnson was tying the game at 51-51 with 20 seconds left in the third quarter, but before it was over, Traina put his team ahead, 53-54, with a big three-pointer at the buzzer.
A thrilling last quarter proveda fair epilogue of a great Euroleague game. Booker was on fire, hitting two three-pointers to give his team a pair of six-point leads, first in 55-61 and then in 59-64, but AEK wasn't ready to give up either. Dikoudis cut the margin to 59-61 and then AEK exploded from the 6.25-meter line. Holden scored the first one (62-64), followed by Nikos Zissis (65-64) and Dikoudis with a three-pointer that finished off an 9-0 run and put AEK ahead, 68-64. At that point, Pillastrini took a risky but crucial decision, ordering his players into a zone press defense, which confused AEK. In last two minutes, the home team didn't manage to pass the ball inside, missing two three-pointers (Holden, Dikoudis), and giving Booker the opportunity to be crowned the king of the game. With 1:20 to play, he cut the margin to 68-65 with a free throw. With 40 seconds left, he tied the game with a three pointer (68-68), and at the buzzer he made the winning two-point basket, even though Holden and Bilba tried to stop him with a double team.
Wednesday, January 16, 2002