FMP won the game 77-68, but Joventut won the series
DKV Joventut suffered but managed to advance to the ULEB Cup semifinals despite FMP Zeleznik's home win by 77-68 on Tuesday night. In the next round, the Spaniards will meet Krka Novo Mesto, who defeated Caprabo Lleida at home. Zeleznik played with the pressure of having to overcome a 14-point deficit, absorbed in the first-leg game played in Badalona. That advantage, in the end, was what saved Joventut, who in the last quarter lost concentration as Zeleznik increased its lead point by point, mainly thanks to the big contribution from Reggie Freeman. Nevertheless, a good second quarter for the guests put them in the right path before the break, and it probably saved them as well for the final part of the game. Paco Vazquez was the best man for the Joventut with 18 points, and Nikola Radulovic bagged 16. For Zeleznik, Freeman paved the way with 23 points, while Ognjen Askrabic added 22 and Ivan Zoroski added 11. Things might have been different if Askrabic stayed on the floor in 5 final minutes, but he left the court injured when Zeleznik led 66-55 and Joventut players finished the match with smiles on their faces.
Already in the opening steps of the game, Askrabic was clearly the offensive reference point for Zeleznik as his 7 points, including a three-pointer, earned his team an early 12-7 lead. Zeleznik was always ahead, but it never managed to pull away, while Joventut stayed in the game thanks to isolated individual plays, like Nikola Radulovic's three-point drives. Zan Tabak also joined Radulovic in pushing the Spaniards forward, but Reggie Freeman's then three lifted Zeleznik ahead 21-13. Vazquez's first basket arrived late in the quarter for the guests to keep the deficit in single digits, 24-15, after 10 minutes. In the second period, Joventut turned the game completely around with a 1-14 run to seize a 25-28 lead before their stunned rivals and the local fans. The power of Tabak started to be self-evident in the offensive end, while Vazquez also sparked Joventut with his long-range shots. Some bad shot selection on the part of Zeleznik was also key to Joventut coming back, even though Askrabic was soon there to put his team ahead again, by 1 point, 35-34. He had 17 points in the half, but a free throw and a jumper by ageless guard Rafa Jofresa allowed the Spaniards to hit the lockerrooms still leading by a basket, 35-37.
Despite the great second quarter, Joventut slowed down following the break and started collecting turnovers. Zeleznik, meanwhile, pushed to increase the lead to overcome the 14-point deficit from the first game. Askrabic was still the best scorer for the hosts, but Freeman started to take control gradually. Vazquez's triple for 49-47 was quickly answered as Freeman scored 4 free throws to make it 56-51. Antonio Bueno's fifth foul in the last seconds of the period allowed Zeleznik to maintain the five-point lead after 30 minutes, 58-53. An 8-0 run for the hosts early in the final period allowed them to jump to 66-55, closer than ever to the goal. The fans pushed hard from the stands, and Joventut didn't gain its concentration back. With 3 minutes to go, Freeman hit another three-point play for 71-60. Joventut's new acquisition, Zendon Hamilton, was rather paralyzed by the pressure of the game and travelled with the ball, but despite the superiority on court, Zeleznik didn't manage to take off for good. With 1 minute to go, Hamilton scored one of his two free thrwos for 76-66. In the next play, Vazquez committed a foul on Freeman, who oddly enough, missed one of the free throws for 77-66. In the last seconds, Jofresa suffered a foul after which he scored the two free throws for the final 77-68, which, despite being a loss, brought joy to the Spaniards, and took Joventut to the semifinals.
Tuesday, March 4, 2003
Aleksandar Ostojic, Belgrade