Efes Pilsen battled until the final seconds to seize its sixth consecutive Group A victory on Thursday, beating Adecco Estudiantes 61-66 on the road in Madrid. Efes improved to 7-1 and shares the top spot in the group with Climamio Bologna, while Estudiantes dropped to 3-5 and is now in sixth place. Goran Nikolic led the winners with 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting and 6 rebounds. He scored all his points in the first half, including 13 in the second period, helping Efes to get a 31-42 edge at halftime. Erden Arslan added 12 points for Efes, while free throws by Will Solomon and Niksa Prkacin sealed the win in the final 13 seconds. Sergio Rodriguez had 12 points for Estudiantes, while Iker Iturbe added 10. Both teams excelled at defense, but Efes allowed the hosts just 7 points in the final period, while Estudiantes made just 13 of 26 free throws.
Estudiantes started the game with a 3-2 zone defense, but Efes still got second-chance points and looked for Ermal Kuqo in the middle. He followed a put-back layup with a jump hook and an acrobatic basket-plus-foul for a 3-7 Efes lead. The hosts didn't panic, as Iturbe had 5 points in a 9-0 run capped by a Ruben Garces dunk that put Estudiantes in charge at 12-7. Efes went scoreless for more than 5 minutes until Nikolic fired in back-to-back mid-range jumpers following a timeout. Estudiantes used patience on offense to secure free throws by Hernan Jasen and long three by Rodriguez to lead 20-15 after 10 minutes.
Prkacin scored an inside basket and fed Nikolic for another before Henry Domercant's triple capped a 1-7 run to a 21-22 Efes lead to start the second quarter. The guests had a different defensive attitude now, playing physical and looking for steals. Estudiantes struggled to score while 4 quick points by Nikolic extend the Efes margin to 23-28. The fantastic defensive exhibition by Efes continued while Nikolic kept shining offensively, accumulatin 9 points in a 3-14 run that produced a double-digit margin at 26-36. Nikola Loncar tried to wake the crowd up with a corner three, but Ender Arslan's floating layup and Nikolic's long two-pointer gave Efes a 31-42 edge at halftime. Nikolic had 13 points in the second quarter, while 7 Estudiantes players combined 8 turnovers in this period.
Carlos Jimenez scored a layup and assisted Jasen's open three-pointer to spark Estudiantes after the break. Domercant managed a layup for the quiet Efes offense, but Estudiantes kept rolling as Iturbe ignited a 7-0 run capped by Rafa Vidaurreta's power layup. Estudiantes was within 43-44 as Efes called timeout, but could not slow the hosts, who now got back-to-back layups from Andres Miso for their first lead of the half, 47-46. A physical defensive battle followed, with points coming hard until Iturbe slashed to the basket and Miso added a running layup for a 54-49 Estudiantes lead after 30 minutes.
Estudiantes tried to play with shorter possessions to seal the outcome but it didn't work. Arslan drilled a corner three for Efes and Solomon added a long two-pointer to bring Efes within 56-54. Kaya Peker tied the game from the free throw line, but a short jumper in penetration by Rodriguez helped Estudiantes keep a slim margin, 58-56, with 6 minutes to go. Solomon became the go-to guy for Efes with a six-meter jumper, good for a new 58-59 lead. Defenses ruled now as Miso scored off a timeout, but Solomon's free throw was the only point for 2 minutes. A layup by Peker helped Efes enter the final 2 minutes with a 60-62 edge, then Rodriguez made 1 of 2 free throws with 1:03 to go. After Prkacin and Jimenez exchanged turnovers, Solomon drew a foul with 13 seconds to do. He calmly made both attempts for a 61-64 Efes margin. When Iturbe missed the game-tying three, it was enough for Efes to count its seventh win.
Thursday, December 23, 2004