Efes Pilsen kept its hold on a piece of first place in Group A on Thursday when its defense and Will Solomon turned back visiting Partizan 78-63 at home in Istanbul. Solomon, the man whose points Efes had been waiting for, came through with a 35-point outburst that Partizan had no answer for in its first game without injured index ratings leader Dejan Milojevic. The victory lifted Efes to 6-1 and a first-place tie with Climamio Bologna at the halfway point in the Regular Season. Partizan, despite good scoring from its corps of teenagers, fell to 1-6. Solomon amassed his point total by making 6 of 8 two-point shots, 5 of 9 threes and 8 of 8 free throws. The other double-figure scorer for Efes was Ermal Kuqo with 11 points, while Goran Nikolic had 8 plus 12 rebounds. For Partizan, Uros Tripkovic scored 15 points, while Luka Bogdanovic, Semih Erden and Stepp Blake added 10 each.
The always-tough defense of Efes didn't stop Partizan from scoring in the early minutes. With teenager Semih Erden scoring twice inside, Partizan took a 9-7 lead it would hold throughout the remainder of the quarter. Despite starting the game with 7 points from Ermal Kuqo, he alone scored for Efes for almost 6 minutes. In that time, Blake Stepp and Luka Bogdanovic added their shots from the arc to boost Partizan's advantage to 7-15. The Efes response started with a triple by Henry Domercant, who proceeded to dunk and make 2 free throws to pull the hosts within 14-17 after 7 minutes. After Vule Avdalovic and Slobodan Bozovic pushed the Partizan advantage to 14-21, the Efes defense and Solomon took over, reducing the gap minute by minute. Solomon's layup following a steal from Blake helped Efes to finish the first quarter just a point behind Partizan, 22-23.
Efes took the control early the second quarter when its aggressive man-to-man defense locked up Partizan's scorers. Solomon, meanwhile, was just warming up. His three-pointer tied it 25-25 and his steal and layup gave the lead back to Efes on the next play. Although the Partizan teens, Erden and Kosta Perovic, kept the guests within 29-28, Solomon and Nikolic teamed up on a 7-0 run over the next 3 minutes to put Efes fully in charge at 36-28. Partizan went almost 5 whole minutes with only a free throw by Avdalovic to its credit. The teams were content to trade points for a couple minutes then until Solomon ended the half his way, putting the lead into double digits for the first time, 43-33, with a triple on the buzzer that game him 19 points already.
The Efes defense continued to shine after halftime, holding Partizan scoreless for another four-and-a-half minutes during which the hosts scored 6 points, with Kuqo's layup posting a 16-point lead, 49-33, after 22 minutes. Partizan turned to zone defense to stop Efes scoring more in the paint. It worked and the visitors used it to make a 0-8 run in which all the points were scored by Erden and yet another teenager, Bogdanovic. With the difference down to 49-41 and its own scoreless stretch reaching more than 4 minutes, Efes got Niksa Prkacin and Solomon to the line for 3 free throws to restore a double-digit lead, 52-41. But another Partizan teen, Tripkovic, stepped up with a pair of three-pointers, the second coming 2 seconds before the quarter could end, leaving Efes to cling to a 54-47 lead.
Partizan's rally was cut short early in the final quarter, however, when Ender Arslan and - who else? - Solomon drilled shots from the three-point arc to reestablish a big lead, 62-51, as Efes had figured out the Parizan zone defense. The Efes defense, meanwhile, was hard as ever for Partizan to break, although Tripkovic and Petar Bozic finally got inside for baskets that cut the difference back to 62-55. Defense ended that threat, too, as Solomon, Prkacin and Dombercan scored in a 6-0 Efes run to a new 13-point lead, 68-55. Even when Tripkovic popped a three-pointer, Solomon was there to answer with his own, as he had been all night on the way to a sixth Group A victory for Efes.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul