A last-ditch attempt by AEK Athens to salvage a disappointing first half ended in more disappontment on Thursday, with a 90-94 home loss to ever-resourceful Benetton Treviso, which played without its top shooter, Trajan Langdon. But if there is any team that has shooters to spare, it is Benetton, and they came in handy in winning a dramatic, 40-minute fight that was full of suspense to the finish. Massimo Bulleri came off the bench to score 6 points in a row during the last 5 minutes for the winners. He and Tyus Edney led Benetton with 16 points each, while Marcelo Nicola added 15 and Jorge Garbajosa 14. Mikalis Kakiouzis had another top performance for AEK with 23 points, while Nikos Hatzis added 19 and Demos Dikoudis 13 for the Yellows. Benetton is now 5-2 and alone in second place in Group A. AEK Athens falls to 1-6 and an even more complicated position as it tries to qualify for the Top 16.
Edney was hot at the beginning of the game and his incredible ability in penetrating gave Benetton Treviso a 0-7 lead. Defense was the order of the day, it seemed, and Dennis Marconato and Jorge Garbajosa, starting despite his back troubles, helped the visitors keep the lead at 2-9. Dikoudis and Andrew Betts saved their reaction for the second half of the first period, however. With those two getting free inside, AEK tied the game 11-11 after 9 minutes, but Benetton had the answer again. Marcelo Nicola had a big three and Garbajosa added 2 free throws, giving Benetton a five-point lead, 13-18, just as it had enjoyed most of the quarter. But AEK didn't let it end like that. Nikos Hatzis hit a free throw and Betts scored at the buzzer, cutting the margin back to 2 points, 16-18. With the lead within reach, the problem for AEK now became Dikoudis, who was called for his third foul before the quarter could finish.
The second period was a remarkable fight that would finished without a winner, or even a leader. The furthest either team allowed the other to escape was when AEK jumped ahead 31-27 midway through the quarter. Nicola and Garbajosa did exactly what had feared. Nicola had 11 points and 2 consecutive three-pointers, while his running mate added 10 in helping Benetton taking a two-points lead, 42-44, a minute before half time. Now, it was AEK newcomer Steve Woodberry¿s turn to score at the buzzer, tying the game 46-46. Hatzis had been the player to balance the scoring for AEK, putting up 13 of his 14 points in the quarter, while Kakiouzis finished with 9 points and Pero Adic added some big baskets, including a huge triple.
AEK and Benetton, the Greek and Italian League leaders, respectively, came out ready for battle again in the third period. Edney proved again how important player he is for Benetton, scoring, stealing and passing enough to become a nightmare to AEK's defense. He and Nicola gave the Italian club a five-point lead. Then AEK went into a zone and Kakiouzis got those 5 points back in tying the game 62-62 after 17 minutes. Benetton ran off another 0-5 partial to lead again, 62-67, but the Yellows cut the deficit to one point 66-67 at the end of third quarter. In 30 minutes of playing time, Kakiouzis led all scorers with 18 points, while Nicola had 15 points, Hatzis and Edney 14 points each. It was a dramatic game that belied gap between the two teams in the standings.
The last period was like a three-point shooting contest, since both teams tried to score from the perimeter. Istvan Nemeth and Dante Calabria did so for Benetton, while Hatzis again landed one for AEK. An incredible shot by Edney gave Benetton a five-point lead, 73-78, midway the fourth quarter, but Vassilis Kikilias hit an heroic triple to keet AEK alive. After that moment, Bulleri played the perfect killer for AEK. He scored 6 points in a row to regain an 82-87 lead for the guests, although Kikilias again answered with a three, making it 85-87. After Calabria missed for Benetton, Nikos Zisis was fooled into a turnover by old pro Ricardo Pittis, whose 2 free throws made it 85-89. That was the key series of the game, since after that, both Bulleri and Nemeth stayed calm shooting free throws to help carry the win back to Treviso.
Thursday, December 5, 2002