AEK eliminated despite big comeback victory
AEK Athens rallied from a 15-point third quarter deficit to edge Neptunas Klaipeda 75-71, but still ended up fifth in Group F standings and finished its Eurocup campaign on Wednesday in the Greek capital. AEK entered the game hoping to qualify for the Last 32, but learned during the second half it has no chances of advancing after both Hapoel Jerusalem and Nizhny Novgorod won their games. However, it did not prevent AEK to rally from a 40-55 deficit, and behind Loukas Mavrokefalidis and Marc Carter complete the comeback and finish regular season with 5-5 record. Already-qualified Neptunas finished its regular season with 6-4 record in the second place, but missed an opportunity to win this game and win Group F. Eurocup’s leading scorer Mavrokefalidis finished the game with 27 points plus 9 rebounds, and Carter scored 10 for AEK. Daniel Ewing had 22 points and 9 assists for Neptunas, while Donatas Zavackas and Martynas Mazeika had 11 points apiece in the losing effort.
The visitors went ahead early as Zavackas and Ewing each hit a three-pointer in the opening 5 minutes, giving Neptunas 5-12 lead. But AEK replied by going 8-for-8 from the free throw line during a 10-0 run that put it up 15-12. Mindaugas Girdziunas snapped the visitors' drought, but Nontas Papantoniou scored 5 points, including a three-pointer, that helped AEK to 22-19 advantage at the end of first quarter. Baskets were few and far between early in the second, before Ewing connected twice for Neptunas, then grabbed an offensive rebound that led to a basket by Zavackas and 28-29. Teams traded leads as Harvey Grant finished a fast break for the visitors, and Milan Milosevic buried a three for AEK. A triple from Zavackas was the lone field goal in the final four minutes of the half, giving Neptunas 33-34 halftime lead.
After the break, Mazeika and Ewing combined for a 1-9 run that opened 37-45 lead. Malik Hairston had a three-point play for AEK, but a triple from Ewing, a three-point play by Grant, and a pair of fastbreak baskets gave hosts 40-55 margin. That’s when Mavrokefalidis got it going, scoring 10 consecutive points for the hosts, and a basket-plus-foul from Dusan Sakota cut it to 53-60 after 30 minutes. Arnas Butkevicius and Travis Bader hit triples for the visitors that helped them to 57-66 midway through the fourth, but Giannis Kalampokis nailed a three for AEK, before consecutive baskets from Carter cut the deficit to 65-66. Mazeika only split free throws for Neptunas, but Mavrokefalidis knocked down a three and Carter finished a fastbreak to give the hosts 70-67. A triple from Zavackas got Neptunas within 71-70 with 46 seconds to go, and Neptunas secured another possession, but Mazeika promptly lost the ball, allowing Kalampokis and Mavrokefalidis to seal the deal from the free throw line for AEK.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015