Lokomotiv survives stern Arka challenge
Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar outlasted upset-minded Arka Gdynia 73-80 in their EuroCup Group B opener on Tuesday at Gdynia Arena. The hosts led last season's runner-up by 3 midway through the third quarter before Dmitry Khvostov heated up to lead a 5-17 charge. Arka battled back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth to get within 4, but Lokomotiv held on. Isaiah Whitehead debuted with 17 points to lead Lokomotiv, Mateusz Ponitka added 13, Moustapha Fall and Khvostov netted 12 points apiece and JaJuan Johnson tallied 10 points and 8 rebounds. Robert Upshaw posted 15 points and 9 boards for Arka, Krzysztof Szubarga had 14 points and 5 assists and James Florence and Filip Dylewicz added 10 each.
Whitehead dominated early with 5 points and an assist to make it 2-9 in the visitors' favor, but Arka battled back to remain in the hunt. Mateusz Ponitka kept Lokomotiv in control and Fall twice split free throws before the first quarter ended at 12-17. Szubarga drew Arka within 16-17 early in the second quarter, but the home side had no answers for Mateusz Ponitka or Whitehead. However Arka continued to battle hard and their efforts bore fruit when Dylewicz's hook made it 28-27 with less than three minutes remaining in the half. Upshaw's alley-oop slam and Krzysztof Szubarga free throws gave the hosts a 32-31 halftime edge. The Arka lead in fact grew in the first part of the third quarter thanks to Josh Bostic and Dylewicz, whose layup made it 43-40. However, Khvostov scored twice in a 0-9 run that gave Lokomotiv the lead for good. A Khvostov triple and a Fall layup gave their team a 48-57 cushion through three quarters. The lead reached double figures in the fourth, but Florence's steals and layups made it 68-72 in the penultimate minute. Mateusz Ponitka's dunk wrapped up a Lokomotiv win.
The winning hand on this nigh belonged to Dmitry Khvostov, who fired in 10 third-quarter points to turn the game on its head. He scored twice in a 0-9 run to give Lokomotiv the lead for good after trailing 43-40 and added a pair of threes to send his team to a 48-57 advantage by the quarter's end. His 10 points in the third was exactly the difference between the teams in that period. Khvostov only missed 2 shots and contributed 3 assists in the winning effort.
Mateusz Ponitka's first EuroCup game for Lokomotiv was also a return to his former hometown and a clash against his little brother. Mateusz, of course, played for the predecessor to Arka, Asseco Prokom Gdynia in the EuroLeague in 2012-13 and was a teammate of his brother Marcel at Zielona Gora three years later. On Tuesday, the big brother and former EuroCup Rising Star played a big role in the victory with 13 points on only 7 shot attempts plus 4 rebounds. Marcel played a game-high 31 minutes in defeat.
Lokomotiv outrebounded Arka 35-43 in a key to the outcome, but even more impressive was that the rebounding burden was shared by many players. In fact, five different Lokomotiv players had at least 5: JaJaun Johnson (8), Isaiah Whitehead (6), Jamel McLean (5), Dorell Wright (5) and Moustapha Fall (5). Also noteworthy was that all nine Lokomotiv players who appeared in the game dished at least 1 assist. That sort of teamwork can take a team far.
TURNING BACK THE CLOCK
A few weeks before we turn our clocks back, Arka Gdynia's Filip Dylewicz did the same. The 38-year-old forward came off the bench for 10 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 22 minutes. He gave Arka its first lead of the game in the second quarter and its biggest lead (3 points) in the third. On Tuesday night, Dylewicz looked every bit the team leader and star he was 10 years ago.
Lokomotiv heads back to Russia for its home opener next week against Limoges CSP, while Arka travels to Turkey for a Wednesday showdown with Tofas Bursa.
Tuesday, October 2, 2018