The champions of last season's Euroleague and Saporta Cup met on Thursday in Siena in another incredible show-stopper. When the dust settled, Monstepaschi had its biggest win of the season, 77-69 over Panathinaikos, giving it new life in lethal Group B. The key factors for Siena started with the return of Vrbica Stefanov at point guard. He not only ran the show, but boosted Siena's on-the-ball defense and limited its turnovers. And if Stefanov was all the Siena fans could want in the backcourt, scoring a game-high 20 points, forward Mirsad Turkcan did everything else for the winners, with 19 points and 16 rebounds. With Dusan Vukcevic adding 14 points, the great ambitions of Montepaschi were served for the night, as the locals entered into a four-way tie for third place in Group B at 2-2, the same as Panathinaikos, Maccabi and Unicaja. For the Greens, Antonis Fotsis and Darryl Middleton were the top scorers with 17 points, while Arriel McDonald added 13.
Montepaschi took over the game quickly with strong man-to man defense and fine shooting. The hosts took an 11-4 lead after 5 minutes. Zalgiris had a heavy backcourt with Lazaros Papadopoulos and Jurica Zuza in the starting five, but Mirsad Turkcan ruled under the rims. Panathinaikos was only warming up, however, and with two drives got a little bit closer to Siena on the scoreboard. But with Stefanov back in charge of the ballhandling, Montepaschi worked its inside-outside possibilities to perfection. He, Turkcan and Dusan Vukcevic made a big stand with 3 consecutive three-pointers, and then they workied the ball to Chiacig in the low post as Siena finished the first period with a 23-14 lead.
Early in the second quarter Montepaschi lost Chiacig to foul trouble, while Panathinaikos found a good inside defensive combo Darryl Middleton and Antonis Fotsis on the court. As such, the Greens quickly got back in the match at 28-26 score, improving his passing game and getting its first good offensive rush from Rodney Buford. Siena coach Ergin Ataman countered with his newest guy, Cal Bowdler, and switched to 2-3 defense. The home team managed to stay ahead until the break, 37-34, as the head Stefanov kept making the right choices and and finished with 13 points in the half. Turkcan was up to 10 points with 7 rebounds and 3 assists. For the guests, who had balanced scoring, Buford led the way with 7 points.
Panathinaikos came out after the break with a shorter lineup featuring Fotsis at power forward, where he quickly scored 5 points consecutively. Then he and McDonald drilled triples and the game was all tied at 42-42. But Siena answered with the same coin, as Vukcevic and Midaugas Zukauskas dropped bombs from the arc. Now it was showtime and the Turkcan-Fotsis duel went on fire, exciting the crowd. The two sides kept battling to a 56-54 margin after 30 minutes, by which time Fotsis had 15 points, Middleton 10, Stefanov 15 and both Turkcan and Vukcevic 14 each.
Bowdler, in his debut, worked hard to stop Fotsis, following him in his inside-outside cuts, as the rest of his teammates retook a decent lead at 67-58. Alphonso Ford stepped in to contribute an exciting three-pointer to that total, but Panathinaikos always kept in the game. Tthe Greens fought back with 2 steals by McDonald and Kalaitsis leading to 5 unanswered points. But Turkcan decided that was enough, and with his own 5 points in a row, a three pointer and a dunk after stealing the ball, Montepaschi was ahead again by 8 points, 74-66, and not looking back. The victory belonged to Siena, not to mention a new lease on life in Group B.
Thursday, October 31, 2002
Stefano Sensi, Siena