With a display of defense rarely seen by a visiting team in Belgrade, Efes Pilsen handcuffed the youngsters from Partizan PMB for a whole half on Thursday to win their Group A finale 49-74. Efes was actually losing at halftime, but turned on a defensive effort that held Partizan to just 17 points in the final 20 minutes to win going away. The victory lifted Efes to a 12-2 record, good enough for a first-place tie with Climamio, who took the group title on tiebreakers. Efes was the competition's best second-place team, however, so will be treated the same as the group winners in the upcoming Top 16 draw. Partizan finished 2-12 and in last place. Willie Solomon scored 21 points for Efes, Henry Domercant added 19 and Goran Nikolic 11. The best Partizan scorers were Uros Tripkovic with 22 and Kosta Perovic with 12 points.
Domercant and Tripkovic traded baskets in the early going, until Efes made a 0-7 run for 5-12 lead. Partizan answered in the same way, however, and with 2 minutes left in the first quarter, Tripkovic took over. He stepped back and drilled 2 shots from behind the arc to boost the hosts to a 21-15 lead after 10 minutes.
Efes didn't take too long in the second quarter to get back in the game. Over 4 minutes, it posted a 2-11 run that included triples by Solomon and Alper Yilmaz to take a 23-26 lead. Partizan switched to zone, tied with Tripkovic's next triple and went ahead again when Perovic scored inside. but Efes took back a 28-32 lead thanks to Ender Arslan and Niksa Prkacin. Tripkovic and Luka Bogdanovic finished the half with triples, however, as Partizan led again 34-32 at the break.
Partizan's leading scorer lately, Blake Stepp, seriously injured his knee at the begining of the second half. Meanwhile, Domercant and Solomon hammered in 2 triples each to fill up an 0-14 run that changed the game entirely. Efes led now 34-46 and its defense was firmly established. Only Perovic got a basket for Partizan as the Efes run stretched to 2-24 over 8 minutes. Efes finally won third period 6-28 and led 40-60 after 30 minutes.
It was clear by the start of the final quarter what the name of the winner was, but far from relaxing, Efes continued to shine shine defensively and reject all Partizan attempts to cut the lead. Solomon's next 2 triples left no doubt as the score kept soaring to a final of 49-74 for two teams going in different directions when the buzzer sounded.
Thursday, February 10, 2005