Back-and-forth drama gripped Thessaloniki, Greece, on Thursday before visiting Benetton Treviso finally walked off with a crucial 79-80 road win over Aris TT Bank in Group G on Thursday. The victory lifted Benetton into a first-place tie at 2-1 with Unicaja and Dynamo Moscow. Aris fell to 0-3 and must win for survival now. Nikos Zisis made a pair of free throws against his hometown club to put Benetton up 3 points in the final minute, then Terrel Castle answered to get Aris within 1. After a Benetton turnover, Savvas Iliadis and Giorgios Sigalas, who had led the Aris comeback from 12 down early in in the game, couldn't get a shot off in time, allowing Benetton to escape with the victory. Terrell Lyday led Benetton with 19 points and 4 steals, Zisis added 13 points and 5 assists while Marcus Goree, Angelo Gigli and Preston Shumpert scored 9 each. Iliadis scored a season-high 23 to pace Aris. Alex Scales posted 18, Castle 11 and Giorgos Sigalis added 10 for the hosts.
Benetton quickly took advantage of a late-arriving crowd in Thessaloniki to get on the scoreboard with a slam dunk by Gigli, who soon proved to be nearly unstoppable in the paint. He scored 4 more points as the guests vaulted ahead by 4-11 lead after just 3 minutes. Aris responded with points by Jeremiah Massey, but was otherwise unable to come back due to continuing defensive struggles. The tandem of Matteo Soragna and Gigli ignited Benetton to a 0-7 run and a commanding 8-20 advantage midway through the quarter. Alex Scales picked up the scoring slack with four quick points, however Benetton was dominating inside -having so far a perfect 9-out of-9 two-point shots. Veteran Giorgos Sigalas came off the bench to pick up the defensive intensity and so he did, while on the other end Scales connected from beyond the arc to allow Aris to trim the gap to 20-27 with three periods
The second period commenced with Iliadis and Mahmud Abdul-Rauf trying to inspire an Aris comeback, yet Benetton's own Thessaloniki native, Nikos Zisis, retorted with a layup and a triple to boost his team's margin to 24-32. Lyday then drove to forge a double-digit lead, but nothing was over yet. Iliadis slashed to the basket and then Sigalas loaded his gun and fired in a wild triple to bring the crowd to its feet and turn the game topsy-turvy. Aris was now clamping down, with Sigalas putting his defensive stamp on the game. On the other end, he added another jumper before Terrel Castle converted a go-ahead three-point play at 36-35. The guests were stuck into a four-minute dry spell on offense, and after a much-needed time-out, when Zisis attempted to restore the advantage for Benetton, he was rejected by Sigalas, who was everywhere. The momentum had now shifted and the Aris "factory of noise" was in full production. But the guests were not willing to go quietly to the lockers yet. Preston Shumpert tied the game again, and then Lyday rattled off 4 straight points as Benetton built a 38-41 lead at intermission.
Aris came out firing in the second half, as nice passing translated into wide open triples by Scales and Sigalas. Benetton was turning the ball over and when Iliadis joined the three-point shooting display, Aris had stretched its advantage to 47-41 and visiting coach David Blatt was forced to call a timeout. The hosts were playing stiffling defense with Sigalas at the power forward position. As a result, Benetton was held without a basket for 4 minutes. Eventually, Soragna drove past Sigalas to get Benetton re-started, but a tip-in by Michael Wilkinson helped the hosts hold a 49-43 lead. Instead of folding, Lyday and Shumpert connected on three-pointers to pull Benetton within 51-49. However, Iliadis was carrying the hosts on his shoulders and with back-to-back jumpers kept Aris in charge, 55-51. Shumpert made it a two-point game, but Iliadis thought otherwise and bettered him with a three-point play that kept the hosts in front, 58-54, with 10 minutes to go.
Aris cooled off early in the final quarter, and thanks to the trio of Shumpert, Lyday and Spencer Nelson, Benetton tied the game at 60. The hosts were struggling offensively, scoring just 2 free throws in a four-minute span. Sigalas returned for Aris, and soon the fearless veteran fed Scales for a two-handed dunk. However, Lyday hit a pair of free throws and Zisis found Nelson for a layup and a 62-64 Benetton lead. Back and forth they went as Iliadis now poured in 3 points to reclaim a 66-64 advantage for the hosts, but Bryant Smith came off Benetton's bench to frustrate the crowd with jumpers from inside and beyond the arc. Yiannis Giannoulis scored on a flashy spin move for Aris, which Zisis answered with a decisive triple for a 68-73 score with 2:22 left. Down the stretch, Scales unleashed 2 missiles from downtown as Aris pulled within 74-75. In the next possession, Nelson was rejected, however after a timeout he took revenge by beating the buzzer. With 20 seconds left, Iliadis split a pair of free throws and then the hosts fouled Marcus Goree, who also made 1 of 2. The foul shot parade continued with Zisis making 2 for Benetton and Castle 4 for Aris to leave a 79-80 scoreboard with 10 seconds left. Benetton was seemingly on the driver's seat, yet a five second violation gave Aris a chance at the game-winning shot, however neither Sigalas nor Iliadis could launch in time and Benetton escaped with the road win.
Thursday, March 1, 2007