Benetton Treviso pushed its qualification chances higher and made the Group H race closer than ever by knocking off co-leader Lukoil Academic 90-93 on the road in Sofia, Bulgaria on Tuesday. Both teams are now 5-3 and must wait at least through Week 9 to know if they will survive to play the elimination rounds, which only the first three teams in each group are guaranteed. Benetton engaged the hosts in a battle from the get-go and it stayed close into the final minute, when 4 perfect free throws by Lionel Chalmers, who finished with 30 points for the winners, proved decisive. Chalmers also took great care of the ball, giving up only 1 of Benetton's 7 turnovers in almost 38 minutes. Mario Austin had a double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds for Benetton, while Reece Gaines added 17 points. For Lukoil, Willie Deane buried 6 three-pointers on the way to 28 points. The hosts had their own double-double man in Pero Antic, who scored 17 points and pulled 14 rebounds. Nenad Canak hit 5 of 6 triple tries for 15 points and Larry O'Bannon added 14.
Benetton served notice of its intention to win with a quick 0-7 start on two Chalmers baskets around a triple by Austin. Antic and Deane tied it just as quickly, however, and Murilo Da Rosa put Lukoil ahead at 9-7. Benetton blasted in front again, 11-16, as Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Gaines joined the scoring, and opened a 16-25 lead after 10 minutes on back-to-back baskets by Tomasso Fantoni. Benetton nursed the lead to 10 points, 19-29, on free throws by Gaines early in the second quarter, but Canak immediately downed a triple to get Lukoil back in the game. Riste Stefanov copied him as the hosts climbed within 29-31 and then Todor Stoykov struck from downtown to make it 34-35. Engin Atsur matched that triple to steady Benetton, which made it to halftime ahead 39-45. Lukoil's surge continued after the break with Deane capping the turnaround with a go-ahead basket at 51-50. Chalmers and O'Bannon traded three-pointers next, then Matteo Soragna and Canak did the same. But when Canak hit again from downtown, Lukoil had its biggest margin, 62-56, on the way to a 69-65 advantage after 30 minutes. Now came Benetton's turn to hit back with three-pointers by Marco Mordente and Chalmers to go in front 73-75. Austin made Benetton's lead even more comfortable, at 77-85, but Deane re-emerged with back-to-back strikes fromt he arc to make it again again at 83-87. Gaines responded for Benetton, but Deane was unstoppable, hitting his next couple shots, including his fifth of the night from long-range, to make it an 88-89 scoreboard going into the final minute. Chalmers got to the line and hit 2 of 2 free throws to calm Benetton. After Stoykov missed a triple try to tie the game, Chalmers went back to the line and iced a major road win for Benetton.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008