The pride of a team that had no chance of reaching the Final Four was enough on Thursday night in Istanbul to trump another team whose biggest dream is to make it there. With a flurry of three-pointers down the stretch, previously winless Ulker handed Maccabi a shocking 79-76 defeat in Group G. Melvin Booker won it from downtown with the last of four Ulker triples in as many minutes. Serkan Erdogan led the winners, who made 10 of 23 three-pointers on the night, with 18 points. Maccabi managed to hit only 3 of 14 long-range shots, with a final miss by Sarunas Jasikevicius from halfcourt at the buzzer. Maccabi drops to 3-2 in Group G, while Ulker improves to 1-4. Maccabi still needs to beat Zalgiris at home next week no matter what to qualify for the Final Four. Ulker also got 16 ponts and 12 rebounds from Joseph Blair and 10 points from both Muratcan Guler and Arda Vekiloglu. Maccabi was led by Nikola Vujcic's 20 points, while Maceo Baston scored 18 and pulled down 10 rebounds, David Bluthenthal scored 13 and Sarunas Jasikevicius had 11 and 8 assists.
Baston and Vujcic powered Maccabi in the opening minutes, doing damage in the paint and giving the guests a 5-12 lead. Ulker was hurt by turnovers early on, but bounced back and despite having no chance at making the Final Four fought Maccabi with intensity. Ulker was without guard Ibrahim Kutluay, the highest-ranked scorer in the Top 16, but his replacement, young Muratcan Guler, responded surprisingly well. Guler and playmaker Petar Naumoski were in synch on both end of the floor and led Ulker on a 10-4 partial that cut Maccabi's lead to just 15-16 at the end of the first quarter.
Vekiloglu gave Ulker its first lead of the game, 17-16, at the beginning of the second quarter but Baston answered immediately for Maccabi with a spectacular dunk.The game turned to a real good challange as both sides fought tenaciously to grab control of the match. In the 14th minute, young Guler's three-pointer from the right corner gave Ulker a 26-24 edge. Vekiloglu increased the lead to 5 points with another triple from almost the same spot one minute later. Ulker opened its biggest lead of the game, 7 points, after forward Vejlko Mrsic scored his first points of the night to make it 33-26 in the 17th minute. ujcic responded with a quick basket, combining with Baston for 6 straight points that pulled Maccabi within 35-32 at halftime.
In the third period, the game turned into a defensive fight. Only Vujcic and David Bluthenthal worked well for Maccabi on the offensive end, while Erdogan and Kerem Gonlum kept Ulker ahead. Ulker held on to its lead despite turning the ball over on several occasions against Maccabi's defensive pressure. Ulker's own defensive pressure was led by its youngsters on the court, but by the end of the third quarter Maccabi made consecutive baskets to keep pace with the hosts. In the 29th minute, Baston made a dunk that put Maccabi ahead for the first time in the period. Maccabi held a 49-50 lead at the end of three quarters.
In the last quarter, Maccabi got off to a quick start, increasing its lead to 7 points, 51-58, following another Vujcic basket from the post. Erdogan kept Ulker close after long-range shots from Sarunas Jasikevicius and Bluthenthal of Maccabi. In the 35th minute, veteran guard Derrick Sharp scored a layup to make the score 59-66. A minute later, a Bluthenthal free throw gave Maccabi its biggest lead of the night at 59-67. Then Ulker started a half-court zone press, which proved to be a game-winning decision. In the 37th minute, Petar Naumoski hit a three-pointer over Baston to reduce Maccabi's edge to 66-69. Erdogan added another triple in the 38th minute to equal the score 71-71. Bluthenthal answered immediately with another three, 71-74, but Erdogan was on fire, as he drained his fourth three-pointer to level the game once again at 74-74. After a Jasikevicius miss, Booker penetrated and made a jump shot from the post with 39 seconds left to put Ulker up again at 76-74. Ten seconds later, Jasikevicius equalled the score at 76-76 on a pair of free throws, but Booker still had the decisive three-pointer of the night in him, and it fell through with 4 seconds remaining for Ulker's first Top 16 victory.
Thursday, April 1, 2004