With a stellar performance from Maurice Evans against his old team, Benetton Treviso soared into the Top 16 on Thursday by winning an 89-102 Group C shootout against Olympiacos in Athens. The victory completed Benetton's long comeback from an 0-2 regular season start to an 8-4 record and an early spot in the next round. Benetton is now tied for second place with Pamesa Valencia, both one victory behind first-place Efes Pilsen. Benetton's victory also had the side effect of helping fourth-place Tau Ceramica advance, while Olympiacos is now 5-7 and left in a struggle for the fifth-place Top 16 berth with Idea Slask (6-6). The Reds can thank Evans, their former teammate, for the turn of events on Thursday as his 32 points and 8 rebounds were decisive for Benetton. Marcelo Nicola added 24 points, including 6 of 8 three-pointers, and Tyus Edney scored 16 points and dished out 14 assists. Olympiacos got 19 points from Panagiotis Liadelis, 16 from Dalibor Bagaric, 15 from Georgios Diamantopoulos and 14 from Christos Charisis.
Olympiacos showed a balanced offense in the opening minutes, scoring from both the perimeter and the paint. The hosts' aggressive play allowed them to control the pace of the game during the first 5 minutes and grab an 11-9 lead. Benetton, which was without forward Jorge Garabajosa, recovered from a measured start with a blistering 2-14 run filled up by 3 three-pointers from Garabajosa's counterpart, Nicola. Edney also spurred Benetton during their run, handing out 4 assists in the opening 10 minutes. With just over 2 minutes remaining in the first quarter, the guests had opened a 14-23 lead, but Olympiacos bounced back. In the time left, Liadelis, Dalibor Bagaric, Goran Jurak and Diamantopoulos had 2 points each for as the Reds pulled to within 22-28 at the end of the first stanza.
Olympiakos used some fresh blood in the second period, when Christos Harissis came alive and rescued his teammates after Benetton had built a 10-point lead at 22-32. Harissis scored 10 points in 7 minutes, giving his team the lead, 42-40. Liadelis contributed 6 points to that surge, while Olympiacos also got boosts from Diamantopoulos and Vaggelis Sklavos. When the game became close again, however, Evans reminded his former club of who he was, going on a scoring tear that put Benetton back in the driver's seat. Evans scored 11 points in the quarter, including a three-pointer at the buzzer which gave the visitors a 49-52 lead at halftime.
The offensive fun continued through the third period, which Olympiacos opened with a 9-2 run to retake the lead as Bagaric and Gorenc dunked on three consecutive possessions. Milan Tomic then hit 2 triples and Olympiacos went ahead 61-57. Benetton's answer came again from Evans, who seemed driven to exact revenge on his former club. After thrilling the crowd with spectacular dunks and long-range shooting, Evans finished the third quarter with a game-high 25 points and had given the lead back to Benetton, 61-66. Olympiacos didn't want to be upstaged at home and found offensive solutions to tie the game on a three-pointer by Diamantopoulos and consecutive baskets by Bagaric. But Benetton still escaped a thrilling third quarter with a 76-78 edge.
Benetton flexed its substantial offensive muscle to start the fourth quarter by jumping to a six-point lead, 81-87. The visitors never looked back after that. Evans was still on fire, while Nicola drilled his fifth three-pointer of the night, which turned out to be the knockout blow. That made the score 84-92, and Olympiakos never recovered. From that moment forward, the Reds struggled offensively and only managed to cut the lead to 3 points once, on a Diamantopoulos triple, but Evans and Nicola quickly answered with a basket each. The Reds would never get closer than 86-92 in the final minutes. Ultimately, Evans offensive dominance combined with Nicola's precision and perfect timing from long range and the great assists from Edney to both of them proved too much, and on this night in Athens, at least, it was Benetton punching a ticket to the Top 16.
Thursday, February 5, 2004
Kostas Sotiriou, Athens