In the lowest-scoring Euroleague game ever, Efes Pilsen used a record-breaking defensive perfomance to beat Benetton Treviso 52-43 at home in Istanbul on Thursday and take over second place in Group G of the Top 16. Efes improved to 2-1 in the Group G standings while Benetton Treviso dropped to 1-2 and is third. Henry Domercant led the winners with 16 points, Ermal Kuqo added 11 and Will Solomon 10. Denis Marconato's 8 points were the most any Benetton player could manage against an Efes defense that knocked down several records. The hosts set a new Top 16 mark by limiting Benetton to 43 points, shattering the previous record held by CSKA Moscow in the 2002-03 season, when it allowed Efes to score just 54 points. Efes also set a new overall Euroleague record by limiting Benetton to just 2 points in the third quarter. The previous record low - 5 points in any quarter - was shared by Slask Wroclaw, Paf Bologna and Opel Skyliners. Finally, the combined point total of 95 for both teams made this the lowest-scoring Euroleague game ever, well below the previous record of 113 from four different games, last one when Efes beat Slask 63-51 on January 16, 2002.
Efes started the game at full speed with a second-chance basket by Kuqo, but Ramunas Siskauskas matched that with a dunk coming off the baseline. Domercant fired in a three, but Bulleri followed Siskauskas's left-handed layup with a spectacular layup against strong defese to give Benetton a 5-6 edge. Efes did not panic, as Kuqo stepped up with a three-point play and another inside basket to keep Efes ahead at 10-8. Garnett took over with a corner triple, but Domercant slashed for a layup and added a basket-plus-foul in a 7-1 Efes run which gave the hosts a 17-12 lead. Benetton reserves Matteo Soragna and David Bluthenthal each fired in jumpers, but in between came Domercant's second bomb from downtown to keep Efes in front, 20-17 after 10 minutes
Bulleri made a running layup to bring Benetton within 20-19 early in the second, but Peker dunked at the other end to keep Efes in charge. Both teams played with long possessions now, until a jump hook by Denis Marconato tied the game, 22-22. Mustafa Abi drilled a long two-pointer from the right wing and Kuqo added a fallaway jumper to make Efes keep a 26-24 edge. The hosts entered the foul bonus too early, but Efes found a go-to guy in Domercant, who drilled an amazing three-pointer in front of his defender. Solomon, back after 2 first-quarter fouls, copied from downtown, forcing a Benetton timeout at 32-26. The guests had foul trouble now, too, as Marcus Goree and Joey Beard were whistled for their third each now. Both teams struggled in the final 3 minutes of the half, but Garnett and Peker exchanged free throws for a 34-28 Efes lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, the game became a defensive war between both sides, but Efes lasted longer - much longer. Solomon took charge of his team after a quiet first half, and with help from Peker, increased the difference minute-by-minute. Benetton could not break through the Efes defense in any way. The visitors either turned the ball over, missed increasingly tough shots or failed to get draw fouls while shooting. A full 8 minutes, 35 seconds passed before a basket came for the guests, a layup by Bluthenthal, but even though that made the score 41-30 - a reachable deficit in most games - it did not signal a comeback. Benetton failed to score another point and finished with 2 total of the quarter, making it the lowest-scoring 10 minutes in Euroleague history. Meanwhile, Peker's dunk in the final minute gave Efes its highest lead all night, 45-30, after 30 minutes.
Benetton's historic drought ended as the final quarter started with a three-pointer from Soragna that sparked a 2-7 run that left the difference at 47-37 after Marconato hit 2 foul shots. Neither defense was ready to give up more baskets, however, and for more than 6 minutes in the middle of the quarter, the only points scored came on free throws. One of those, by Siskauskas, reduced the Efes advantage to 9 points, 49-40, but there were only 2 minutes left then, and a free throw at a time was not going to add up to a rally for the guests. Efes was in danger of ranking second behind Benetton on the record list with only 4 points in the quarter until Ender Arslan made a free throw and Kuqo a layup at the end, by which time the hosts had a firm grip on second place in Group G.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul