Tau Ceramica won a crucial showdown in Top 16 Group F when it defeated visiting Lietuvos Rytas 96-89 at home in Vitoria, Spain on Wednesday. Tau improved to 2-1 and took over second place in the Group F standings. L.Rytas dropped to 1-2 and will travel to Moscow next week for a critical game against group leader CSKA. Serkan Erdogan led the winners with 27 points off the bench, hitting 10 of 12 free throws. Casey Jacobsen added 14 points while Kornel David and Luis Scola each had 10 for Tau. Scola also grabbed 9 rebounds and dished a game-high 7 assists. Matt Nielsen led L.Rytas with 19 points, while Fred House and Simas Jasaitis each had 18. Roberts Stelmahers had 13 points and Robertas Javtokas 12 and 9 rebounds for the guests, who trailed 76-73 with under 7 minutes to go. A double technical foul on L.Rytas head coach Neven Spahija marked the start of a 11-0 Tau run in which Erdogan had 6 points, enough for the hosts to seal the outcome long before the final buzzer.
Stelmahers nailed the first three-pointer of the night to open the scoring on the first possession for L. Rytas. Nielsen added 5 consecuive points in a 3-8 opening run that allowed L.Rytas to control the game early. Tau only found points from beyond the arc, as both Scola and Tiago Splitter remained scoreless through 5 minutes. Jacobsen hit a three to reduce the difference and Travis Hansen a short jumper to tie 8-8, but soon L.Rytas joined the three-point festival. House, Stelmahers and Jasaitis scored from downtown to put the guests back in charge, 13-17, after 7 minutes. Tau found answers from its bench, as Erdogan and David came in to score all the points in a 7-0 run that allowed the hosts to take a 20-17 at the end of the first quarter.
Tau didn't stop there. Sergi Vidal opened fire in the second quarter with a three-pointer, after which Erdogan widened the gap to 25-17 with a baseline layup. L. Rytas got its response from House and Nielsen, but Tau had already found its momentum. Erdogan followed a corner three-pointer with a free throw while Predrag Drobnjak increased the margin to 32-22. L. Rytas tried a timeout, but Erdogan remained on fire as Tau's lead soared to 40-24. L. Rytas improved a bit when Javtokas returned to the court, but it was not enough due to the visitors' poor shooting. Despite losing Erdogan to his third foul, Tau managed to retain a comfortable margin, 48-36, at halftime.
L. Rytas started strong after intermission, shocking Tau with suffocating defense. The visitors came within 51-46 after just 2 minutes thanks to their dominance under the boards, which allowed them to earn easy fastbreak baskets. Tau repeated the same game they performed in the beginning, getting points from the three point line to prevent L. Rytas from rallying more. Just the same, Nielsen answered from the same distance to get the guests closer, at 61-57. Then Stelmahers capped the comeback with 4 points in a row to tie 61-61 after 26 minutes. Tau switched to zone defense at that time, while at the other end, Erdogan nailed another three-pointer to save the lead. The defensive change made the difference for Tau, taking L. Rytas off its momentum and allowing the hosts to escape to a 71-64 edge after 30 minutes.
Javtokas and Jasaitis showed that things were not over when they ignited a 1-5 run to start the final quarter. The hosts got some relief when a flagrant foul called on Stelmahers turned into free throws by Pablo Prigioni and a layup by Scola. The situation got even worst for the visitors when head coach Neven Spahija was ejected because of back-to-back technical fouls with 6:30 to play. Erdogan added 3 points from the free throw line, then he and Prigioni popped from downtown in a 9-0 run that made it 85-73 midway through the last quarter. Despite all those problems, L. Rytas kept pushing inside with Javtokas and Nielsen to come within 90-83 with 3 minutes to go. Erdogan took over again for the hosts with a short jumper, but Jasaitis reduced the gap even more with a three-pointer. It was Scola, with a layup, who kept the hosts calm at 94-86, before Javtokas missed a couple of free throws entering in the last minute, leaving L. Rytas without enough time left and Tau with a hold on second place in Group F.
Wednesday, March 8, 2006