Unicaja clinches first place in Group H
Unicaja Malaga secured first place in Group H and the home-court advantage for the EuroCup Quarterfinals by downing already-qualified Tofas Bursa 76-68 at Palacio de Deportes Martin Carpena on Wednesday night. The hosts needed a win to qualify and to do it by more than 2 points to finish first and they were able to accomplish both goals. Even though Unicaja led 43-34 at halftime, Tofas rallied back with a 0-13 early run in the third quarter that tied the game entering the fourth. A great defensive effort that held Tofas scoreless for 5 minutes allowed Unicaja to escape with the win. Josh Adams led the winners with 14 points, followed by Adam Waczynski and Ruben Guerrero with 11 and 10 points respectively. Tarik Phillip contributed 17 points on 3-of-4 three-point shooting, Devin Williams posted 11 points and 7 rebounds and Sammy Mejia had 10 points for Tofas.
Back-to-back triples by Adams put the hosts in front 8-5 in the early going, followed by a basket-plus-foul and a banked layup by Volodymir Gerun that extended the gap to 13-5 midway through the first quarter. Adams continued perfect from deep to build a 16-7 advantage, but Matt Lojeski, Mejia and Williams combined on a 2-9 run to wake up Tofas and make it a one-possession game. Phillip took over then with a jumper and a buzzer-beating triple to finish the first quarter with Tofas up 20-21. Guerrero and Waczynski boosted Unicaja after the break and returned the lead to the hosts, but the momentum didn’t last for long as Tofas's defense forced several turnovers by the home team. D.J. White tied it at 27-27 with a three-pointer as both teams remained even for a couple of minutes. Waczynski came to the rescue from the outside and connected twice from downtown to boost Unicaja towards a 41-33 lead that Adams extended to 43-34 at the end of the first half.
Tofas stepped onto the court at full throttle in the third quarter, pushed by a glittering backcourt performance. Phillip, Lojeski and Mejia combined on a 0-13 run that put the visitors in charge 43-47 and turned the game upside down. Adams ended the drought for Unicaja with a three-point play and Guerrero hit twice from the line to make it 48-50 right before an unsportsmanlike foul called on Mejia allowed the hosts to get the lead back. Lojeski and Muhyamin Mustafa showed up at that moment with a couple of buckets, as Unicaja based its offense on Carlos Suarez's accuracy. As such, both squads traded leads for a while until Baris Ermis laid it up to close the third quarter with all still to play and tied at 59-59. Nerves took over entering the last period as no team was able to connect on offense for the first 3 and a half minutes. Gerun broke the trend with an inside bucket, followed by triple and a timely steal by Jaime Fernandez that raised the temperature in the gym. Deon Thompson made it 66-59 midway through the last quarter, as Unicaja seemed to have found its momentum at the right moment when Axel Toupane extended the lead to 71-63 with a three. Tofas answered from the free-throw line to prevent the hosts from breaking it, but Fernandez erupted with a layup and a difficult assist for a corner three by Alberto Diaz to set a 76-68 Unicaja advantage entering the last minute. A three-point attempt missed by Devin Williams was nothing but a preview of a long-waited celebration by Unicaja’s fans after securing first place in Group H.
Unicaja allowed only 68 points from Tofas, which is its worst scoring mark of the Top 16 and its second-worst this season. The hosts allowed only 9 points in the last quarter and just two field goals, holding the visitors scoreless for the first 5 minutes.
In addition to its great defensive display, Unicaja showed great balance on offense as all players that stepped onto the court (9) scored 4 or more points.
Tofas had an impressive start after halftime. It punished Unicaja with a 0-13 run based on a tremendous performance by its backcourt. The visitors turned a 43-34 disadvantage into a 43-47 lead, but they couldn’t make it grow and once Unicaja took the lead in the last quarter, it never looked back.
With nothing at stake in Group H, Tofas Bursa will celebrate its qualification at home when it welcomes Morabanc Andorra on Wednesday, March 4, while Unicaja will stay in Spain and visit Joventut Badalona the same day.
Wednesday, February 5, 2020