Partizan Igokea took advantage of a short-handed opponent to win its first Top 16 game in Group D by 78-65 over visiting Efes Pilsen on Thursday in Belgrade, Serbia. Partizan and Efes both have 1-2 records now and are tied for second place with Panathinaikos, all three behind undefeated Montepaschi. Efes played without four key contributors - Drew Nicholas, Loren Woods, Andre Hutson and Rashad Wright - who did not fly with the team over their personal security concerns despite assurances of safety from host city and club. The game was held without incident. Despite winning the first quarter, Efes flagged in the face of Partizan's bench strength, losing major ground in the second quarter and never being able to make up the large differences. Nikola Pekovic again paced Partizan, with 20 points and 6 rebounds. Milt Palacio added 14 points, while Dusan Kecman had 9 and 8 rebounds. For Efes, Kenny Gregory checked in with 19 points, while Scoonie Penn and Ermal Kuqo added 13 each and Kerem Gonlum 11. Partizan's 36-23 advantage on the boards was key in what was otherwise an even game.
Partizan took advantage of the missing Efes starters to mount an early 5-0 lead thanks to a triple from Kecman and second-chance points from Slavko Vranes. Palacio joined the scoring with 5 straight points as the hosts vaulted ahead by 15-7 midway through the first quarter. Partizan's star, Pekovic, had not come off the bench yet as the 2.29-meter Vranes started and stayed on the court, but when Efes struck back with a 0-5 run, the switch was made by home coach Dusan Vujosevic. Efes kept its momentum, however, as Kuqo hit from downtown and Gonlum scored on a fastbreak to make it 17-17. And when Ender Arslan downed a triple on the first-quarter buzzer, Efes led 19-20 after 10 minutes.
Cedomir Vitkovac opened second period with a three-point shot for the hosts, but Kuqo did the same on the other side for Efes. Pekovic helped Partizan take a lead again before Milenko Tepic capped an 8-0 run with a triple. Partizan led by 32-26 midway through the second quarter and pushed a high rhythm that Efes found hard to combat with its shortage of players. Tepic inspired another 7-0 blast for the hosts, pushing the Partizan advantage to 39-28, where the score remained at the end of first half, when Pekovic was the only scorer in double digits, with 10 points.
Gregory and Palacio traded three-point plays as both teams played stronger defense at the begining of the second half. Partizan kept guarding its double-digit leads, however, as the score reached 44-33 in minute 25. A couple minutes later, Dejan Borovnjak scored from the paint and Partizan led 50-37. That was the sign to the frenetic home fans to start singing, but plenty of minutes remained. Arslan strung together 4 points to bring Efes closer on the scoreboard. Uros Tripkovic missed twice from behind the arc and Vranes fell into foul trouble as Efes cut the gap further, to single digits, at 52-43 after 30 minutes.
Tepic brought back the double-digits lead by shooting from downtown early in the final quarter. Kecman joined him as Partizan boosted its lead to 62-47 after 8-0 run. Penn hit a triple and added a jumper to bring some hope back to the guests, but Kecman scored key triple and Partizan led 65-52 with 5 minutes left. Tripkovic joined him as Palacio ended the hosts's newest run at 8-2. Efes tried long-distance shots but time was working in Partizan's favor and by the time Pekovic and Novica Velickovic combined to make it 76-59, the Belgrade fans were celebrating a first Top 16 victory.
Thursday, February 28, 2008