Efes Pilsen revived its Top 16 hopes Wednesday with a hard-fought 74-67 win over Armani Jeans Milano in Istanbul, Turkey. Kaya Peker and Milos Vujanic rose to the occasion with big games and crucial baskets in the fourth quarter as Efes snapped a four-game losing streak and improved to 3-4, which tied it for third place in Group D. The club also beat Milano for the second time, giving it the important head-to-head tiebreaker, should it arise later on. Meanwhile Milano, which won its last two games, fell to 2-5 and now sits in last place in the group. The hosts started red hot as Peker and Bootsy Thornton pushed Efes to a 12-point lead, but Marco Mordente’s shooting carried Milano back and later Massimo Bulleri’s heroics kept the visitors within 39-37 at halftime. Massimo Bulleri and Mike Hall teamed on 0-8 third-quarter run as Milano took the lead for the first time and the game would stay close, entering the fourth quarter tied 54-54. But Efes wrested away the lead at the start of the fourth behind triples from Michailis Kakiouzis and Vujanic and held on for the important win. Vujanic led Efes with 20 points and 4 assists, while Peker posted 19 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals. Charles Smith added 12 points and 4 assists and Thonrton netted 10. Bulleri paced Milano with 14 points and 5 assists and Mason Rocca added 11 points and 8 rebounds in defeat.
Peker muscled his way to the basket and drew a foul to score the game’s first points and then went inside again for a basket-plus-foul as the hosts went ahead early. Rocca scored Milano’s first points from the line, but Kerem Gonlum and Peker gave Efes a 9-1 start, causing Milano head coach Piero Bucchi to take a timeout after less than three minutes of action. The visitors settled down as Rocca corrected his own miss and then Yohann Sangare stripped Preston Shumpert and darted in for a layup. Thornton went into the lane for a score, however Mike Hall’s triple cut the gap to 11-9 as Milano recovered from a poor start. But the visitors remained a basket behind and when Vujanic fired in a triple and Peker finished came up with a three-point play in transition, Efes led 21-13 and Peker had 10 points. Mordente answered from downtown for Milano, but Thornton matched him and then scored on the break to give Efes a double-digit advantage before Mordente’s second three made it 28-19 after 10 minutes.
The entrance of Pape Sow and Mindaugas Katelynas energized the Milano troops and created space for the shooters. Luca Vitali and Mordente capitalized, sandwiching triples around a Sow slam to bring Milano within 1. Efes head coach Ergin Ataman used a timeout after which Vujanic scored from close and far and Smith cut for a hoop to make it 35-27 midway through the period. Milano’s shooting kept it alive, but Efes’s aggressive defense shut down the passing lanes and limited the visitors’ options. Bulleri flew past Sinan Guler for a three-point play and then hit a three from the top of the key to make it a 2-point game. And Kakiouzis and Jobey Thomas traded baskets to make it 39-37 at halftime.
Peker started the second half with a dunk for his first points since the opening period. However Hall hit a jumper on the other end and when Bulleri teamed with Rocca to strip Vujanic and then few him for a layup, the score was tied at 41-41. Hall added a jumper for Milano’s first lead of the game and Bulleri scored from the line to cap a 0-8 run and make it 41-45. Vujanic scored on the break to revive the hosts as the game tightened up. Rocca knocked Peker in the face while battling for a rebound and took a seat with 4 fouls. A Sow slam put the visitors up 5, however Vujanic kept it close with a triple – his third of the night. Sow picked up an unsportsmanlike foul for tripping Peker and then a technical for arguing. The result was 4 free throws made – 2 by Peker and 2 by Vujanic – as Efes took a 51-50 advantage. And then Smith score a basket-plus-foul before Bulleri’s mid-range jumper restored Milano’s spirits. And a Katelynas jumper knotted the score at 54-54 heading into the decisive fourth quarter.
Kakiouzis fired in a triple from the corner and after a Katelynas basket, Vujanic hit from downtown to make it 60-56. Cliff Hammonds extended the lead and a Smith tip-in made it 64-56. Hammonds also shined on the defensive end with a big block on Hall. David Hawkins stepped up with a block on one end and a slam on the other to bring the visitors within 4, but Milano lost an important piece as Rocca fouled out on the ensuing play. However the Milano defense stood the test, the visitors came up short at the other end. Peker made it 66-60 with a basket from close-range with two-and-a-half minutes to go. Thomas gave Milano hope with a triple, but Smith matched him to keep the hosts up 6 with 1:21 to play. Katelynas missed from downtown and Peker muscled his way to a basket as Efes put the finishing touches on an important and hard-fought win.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008