Anyone who thought a Top 16 group with three Italian teams out of four would lack for drama should have been among the 5,000-plus fans at BPA Palas in Pesaro, Italy on Wednesday night. They would have seen Scavolini turn Group E on its head with a rousing 101-98 home win over Benetton Treviso, which had been undefeated less than two weeks ago. Now, both Scavolini and Benetton are 2-2 and could be part of a four-way tie before the week is out. Scavolini completed its turnaround from an 0-2 start by matching Benetton blow-for-blow all night, right down to a free throw duel at the finish between point guard Melvin Booker and his counterpart on Benetton Tyus Edney. Booker, who led his team with 26 points, was good on 6 of 6 foul shots in the final 17 seconds to ice the victory for Scavolini. Marko Tusek added 21 points for the winners, Larry Middleton 18 and Joseph Blair 12. It took all that for Scavolini to overcome a huge 29-point night by Marcelo Nicola of Bennetton. Tyus Edney added 24 points for the losers and Riccardo Pittis 11.
Scavolini started the game with its best defender, Middleton, guarding Edney in order to take advantage of his bigger size. That choice paid off quickly, and not only on defense, because the veteran shooting guard posted back-to-back jump shots for the hosts' first slim advantage, 11-8. Sergei Chikalkin was the only man on Benetton scoring in those early minutes, but soon, a terrific 10-0 run featuring baskets by Booker and Tusek gave Scavolini a 21-10 lead in the middle of the period. Edney scored his first point on a free throw that came with the second foul on Middleton, who was reluctantly called to the bench by coach Stefano Pillastrini and replaced by Andrea Pecile. After enjoying its biggest advantage at 23-11, Scavolini got a taste of how quickly Benetton can make up differences. With Edney on the loose again and Nicola getting a tip-in and hitting his first three-pointer, the visitors mounted a comeback with an 0-9 run that evened the scoreboard at 30-30 before the quarter could end. It was all Scavolini could do to get a free throw from Pecile and preserve a lead of 31-30 that had been double digits just a few minutes earlier.
A jump hook by Michele Maggioli gave another slight advantage to Scavolini, 35-30, early in the second quarter, but when Booker took a second foul and went to the bench, Nicola again took advantage to close Benetton within 35-34. The game was on fire now. The ball was scorching through the nets, shooting percentages kept climbing and the defenses weren't able to stop anyone, least of all Nicola. The veteran forward now put up several baskets straight to give Bennetton a 41-42 lead, its first since the game's opening minutes. There was no time to rest as both teams nailed basket after basket, stopping and popping from downtown with great accuracy and putting on a show for the BPA Palas crowd. Tusek and Brad Traina had the last say for Scavolini down the stretch before halftime, the former working inside for a first-half total of 13 points, the latter adding his bombs to the hosts 8-for-14 three-point total on the half. Scavolini went in the lockerroom with a 54-47 lead knowing that was anything but safe with so many scorers on the floor.
Middleton showed his idea of where the game was going by posting two more long-distance shots to start the second half, boosting the hosts to another double-digit lead, 60-49. And Middleton was far from finished!. A Pittis scored for Benetton, Middleton launched in another three-pointer to make it 63-51. When Pittis was called for a technical foul, Middleton did it again, hitting his fourth three-pointer of the night for a 67-51 Scavolini lead. But Benetton pride started to resurface with a 0-6 run that got the visitors back within 10, a relatively small lead considering the scoring prowess on display, at 67-57. Middleton now left with his fourth foul with 15 minutes to play, which was bad news for Scavolini. The hosts arrived to another comfortable lead at 75-69 but again Benetton showed the wish to stay in the game until the end, with Massimo Bulleri this time helping close the gap to 76-66. Pecile drew a foul with a second to go but missed the free throws and the third period ended 79-67 for Scavolini.
Benetton needed something to start the fourth quarter, and Nicola gave his team everything. He was again on fire, scoring and passing an assist to Pittis to cut the deficit to single digits at 84-76. But Scavolini made another effort to play tougher on defense and the duo Middleton-Booker combined on the fastbreak to return the lead to double figures at 88-76. The solidity of Tusek was key for the Scavolini lead, but the incredible ability of Benetton to score big numbers in few seconds put the guests quickly back within 88-81. Soon Nicola was finishing a give-and-go to cut the defecit to 90-84 and a layup by Pittis made it a whole new ballgame at 90-86 with almost 5 minutes left to play. Traina, a former Benetton player, then made a three-point play and added a blocked shot again Edney to give the hosts breathing space again at 93-86. Benetton, with a three-pointer by Nicola, would come closest at 93-92, but Booker answered with a jumper from the corner for 95-92 and less than a minute to go. Blair controlled a key offensive rebound after a shot missed by Pecile with 18 seconds to go and Booker was fouled. He scored both free throws to make it 97-94. It wasn't over, Edney made two more for 97-96, a foul on Booker permitted to coach D'Antoni to call a timeout. Booker went to the line with 10 seconds to go and dropped the first and the second. It was 99-96. Edney scored two again, 99-98, and another foul on Booker let him score two more foul shots to become the hero of the night and give his team a thrilling 101-98 victory.
Wednesday, March 27, 2002