Benetton Treviso took exclusive hold of the Group F lead thanks to a 93-80 home win against visiting Maccabi Tel Aviv on Thursday. Benetton built its success in the second half thanks to excellent defensive intensity and a great contribution by point guards Tyus Edney, who hit 24 points, and Massimo Bulleri, who added 15. Jorge Garbajosa scored 17, while Riccardo Pittis contributed 11. The victory launched Benetton to 3-0 record in this Top 16. Maccabi had 28 points by Nikola Vujcic, 16 by Beno Udrih and 10 by David Bluthenthal, but could not avoid falling to 2-1 in the standings.
Maccabi started with very aggressive defense, taking an early 3-8 lead and forcing Benetton to call a timeout. Vujcic was the main man for the guests, but Maccabi had also good backdoor plays from Tal Burstein, while Treviso had just a three-pointer by Edney to show for itself in the first minutes. Maccabi switched to 2-3 zone defense right after the timeout, and Benetton suffered a turnover. Benetton made the same tactical adjustment, but Quincy Lewis hit a jumper giving Maccabi a 3-10 lead and a 0-8 run. Garbajosa stopped the slide for Benetton, and Edney responded to Marcus Goree's work in low post with a two-plus-one play that cut the deficit to 8-12. Benetton alternated zone and man-to-man defenses to keep Maccabi guessing. Meanwhile, Garbajosa hit a three-pointer and Edney invented a great layup to give the hosts a lead at 15-14. Lewis got it back for Maccabi with his own fine drive. Bulleri came off the bench and gave Benetton a quick basket while Maccabi suffered its fourth turnover. Still, the scoreboard was balanced until the end, when Goree's tap-in at the buzzer left Benetton leading by the minimum, 21-20, after the first 10 minutes.
Vujcic gave back Maccabi a small lead from the line, but Dante Calabria and Bulleri hit back-to-back threes to make it 27-22 for Benetton. Vujcic tried to keep Benetton from escaping, but Calabria and Marcelo Nicola combined for 4 spectacular points to make it 31-24. Burstein with a crossover move and Goree on a baseline drive answered for Maccabi. Then, after Lewis injured his back in a heavy fall, Beno Udrih reduced the gap to 33-32. After that flurry, Benetton decided to switch back to zone, but it had more problems on offense, with only a Garbajosa free throw amid several turnovers. Now, Vujcic hit a fadeaway to tie the score 34-34, and Burstein shot Maccabi into the lead from the perimeter. Nicola took it right back for Benetton with a three-pointer for 37-36. Bluthenthal tied from the line before Udrih landed a big three after a key offensive rebound to put the visitors up 37-40. After an exchange of two baskets per team, Benetton had possession with 29 seconds left but suffered a shot clock violation, and Maccabi was able to take a 41-45 advantage into intermission.
Edney tied the score for Benetton in the first minute of the third quarter. The hosts' run hit 7-1 before Bluthenthal hit a huge three to give back Maccabi a 48-49 lead. Benetton played a small lineup with Pittis at power forward, and his 2 points regained a lead, but Lewis was back with a jumper to tie 53-53. The small leads kept alternating, with Maccabi depending on Udrih's 4 points. Benetton made the first break, a 5-0 run, on an Edney three and a dunk by Calabria for 61-58. After a Maccabi tiemout, Nicola came out and added a triple to the lead. Benetton turned up the defensive heat as Nicola blocked a shot, but Udrih invented a jumper to stop Maccabi's skid and get the visitors within 64-60. Edney finished the quarter with 2 free throws that let Benetton lead by 66-60 going into the final quarter.
Udrih missed the first lay up of the last period, and Benetton had the chance to deepen the lead, but the basket spit out Bulleri's jumper. Sharp had the chance to reduce the gap with an open three, but he shot missed, too, and Bulleri converted 2 free throws at the other end. Vujcic charged and Edney drew Goree's fifth foul as Benetton ran ahead by 9 points, 69-60. Udrih got a jumper to go in, then put down 2 free throws before being relieved by young Yotam Halperin. Nicola stung Maccabi's zone with a basket, Garbajosa took a steal for a fastbreak layup to make it 73-64. Soon, Edney's three-point play gave Benetton first double digits lead, 76-66, and then he added a pair of free throws for good measure. The lead stabilized around 10 points until a Garbajosa three-pointer made it 83-70, though Vujcic and Bluthenthal got it down to 83-73 with 3 minutes to go. Vujcic hit another layup and the gap was once again to single digits, but Bulleri drove once and, after a Pittis steal, sank another big jumper to return the lead to 12 points, 87-75. Vujcic kept making shots, but so did Edney and Pittis, so Benetton's fans could spend the final minute celebrating the inevitable victory and their team's new status as sole leaders in Group F.
Thursday, March 20, 2003