Maccabi Tel Aviv took care of business in a big way Thursday by beating Ulker in Istanbul by a healthy 78-91 to forge a three-way tie at the top of Group H. Maccabi now joins CSKA Moscow and Tau Ceramica, all with 2-1 records in first place. Maccabi ignored a second quarter back injury that kept its inside leader, Nate Huffman, out of action the rest of the game. Turkish center Huseyin Besok helped cover Huffman's absence with 9 points, joining the guard tandem of Arriel McDonald and Derrick Sharp in an 8-17 third-quarter run that put Maccabi in charge. The visitors then held Ulker to a single basket in the first 5 minutes of the final quarter to seal the deal. McDonald led all scorers with 22 points, plus picked up 6 assists and 4 rebounds. Gur Shelef added 19 points and Sharp 17 for the winners. Ulker, which led by a point at the half, now drops almost mathematically out of contention at 0-3. Ulker got 19 points from Harun Erdenay, but 13 of those came in the opening quarter. Roberts Stelmahers added 15 points and Quadre Lollis a double double of 10 points and 11 rebounds for the hosts.
In the first period, the home team relied on its main offensive weapon, Erdenay. The veteran team captain did it all, scoring 13 points, including 3 three-pointers, to keep his team alive against Maccabi. The visitors had taken their first lead, at 2-4, a minute into the action on a Nate Huffman basket and foul shot. Then Erdenay responded in a big way, scoring back-to-back three-pointers as Ulker took a six-point lead, at 13-7, in the fifth minute. Maccabi was not intimidated, however, and under the guidance of Arriel McDonald first equalled the score at 15-15 before they retook the lead on a McDonald three that made it 18-20. Maccabi would hold on despite Ulker's consistent pushing to finish the first quarter ahead 23-24.
Ulker played more aggressively to begin the second period and it paid off. The home team took their biggest lead yet, 36-29, on a Kerem Gonlum dunk in the 25th minute. But Maccabi shooter Derrick Sharp was having his way on offense and did not let Ulker escape. Sharp scored 2 straight three-pointers, the second of which cut the score to 40-39 with just over 2 minutes left until the half. Not all was good news for Maccabi, however, as Nate Huffman had to take a seat in the 18th minute due to back problems and did not return in the period. The final possessions for both teams were marred by fouls, but neither team took advantage of the freebies from the line, so Ulker maintained its slim lead at the break, 44-43. Erdenay led all scorers with 15 points, only managing two in the second period, while Sharp was up to 10 for Maccabi.
After halftime, Maccabi went to its quickest options, McDonald and Anthony Parker, on offense. A McDonald three-pointer and a bucket from Besok in the paint sparked Maccabi to its biggest lead, 46-52, in the 24th minute. But just as before, Maccabi seemed to encounter another spell of bad luck as Besok now got hit in the eye and had to leave the court just when his team started rolling. Fortunately for the visitors, Besok was replaced by Radislav Curcic, who didn't miss a step. Maccabi kept stretching the lead. Curcic's inside basket 2 minutes before the end of the period, to which McDonald added a fastbreak layup, gave Maccabi its first double-digit lead at 52-64. Besok re-entered the game in the final minute while Huffman remained on the bench. Ulker started the zone pressure and it helped the hosts reduce the difference to 7 points, 58-65, at the end of the 30 minutes.
Ulker started the last period using Bud Eley along with Zaza Paculia in an effort to stop Maccabi's strength inside, particularly that of Besok. But the strategy did not go as planned. A Besok dunk and a McDonald fast break in the 32nd minute were devestating for the Turks as Maccabi once again extended their lead to nine, 60-69. McDonald gave Tel Aviv its biggest lead with a steal and converted fast break at 60-73. Ulker tried to catch Maccabi but a spectacular dunk from Besok in the closing seconds gave Maccabi the 78-91 victory.
Thursday, March 21, 2002
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul