The late-game heroics of Marko Popovic has Zadar still undefeated after a thrilling 91-90 Group D home win against Cholet of France. Popovic scored all of his 14 points in the last 15 minutes Tuesday, none more dramatic than the game-winning layup off a steal by Branimir Longin with seconds left. Zadar was trailing by 12 midway through the third quarter when Popovic scored his first 5 points to ignite a 20-4 run that gave Zadar its first important lead. Cholet rallied to lead by 3 on an Ivan Krasic three-pointer in the final minute, but Popovic hit 2 free throws before Longin's big steal ruined a valiant effort by Cholet. Michael Meeks led the winners with 22 points, Hrvoje Perincic added 14 more and Longin 12. For Cholet, K'Zell Wesson was huge with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Richard Barry matched him with 18 points, Tony Stanly added 16 and DeRon Hayes 10. Zadar holds onto the Group D lead at 3-0, while Cholet falls to 0-3.
Cholet did everything right in the first quarter, as guards Richard Barry and Tony Stanley took turns scoring from the outside in the same manner in which the Zadar guards are so accustomed, drilling shots from deep and getting open in transition. It helped that the visitors were doing a job on the boards, too, with Stanley, Jim Bilba and K'Zell Wesson pulling down rebounds after rebound. The result was an 18-21 lead after 10 minutes. Zadar got back on track as far as scoring goes in the second quarter, with Meeks taking over with 3 inside baskets and 2 from three-point distance. Hrvoje Perincic and Mladen Erjavec contributed from outside, but leading scorer Marko Popovic and his running mate, Branimir Longin, were behind held down by the Cholet defense still, as was big man Marko Samanic in the middle. Meanwhile, big man K'Zell Weeks was getting in on the scoring with 8 points for Cholet, which held onto a single-point lead, 44-45, at the half.
Cholet ran out after halftime to try to put the game away with a 2-13 run that amounted to the game's highest lead, 46-58, on an inside basket by Wesson. Zadar had to react or risk its first loss, so that's when Popovic finally got involved. After a layup by Branimir Longin, Popovic made his first shot of the night, a three-pointer, and followed it with another layup for a 7-0 run. The blitz was on by one of the top offensive teams anywhere. Before it was over, popovic had another three, Meeks and Perincic a basket each and the run totalled 20-4 in a matter of 5 minutes. That was good enough to flip the scoreboard and give Zadar a 66-62 lead. Cholet recovered from that shock quickly enough to retake the lead at 67-68 on a pair of free throws by Aymeric Jeanneau that ended a wild third quarter.
An Ivan Krasic three-pointer, the only early shot made in a tense fourth quarter, added to a Gelable layup pushed Cholet ahead 67-73. But Zadar reeled the guests back in as Erjavec hit a three and Longin a layup to cut the deficit to 72-73. Wesson, who was all over the boards all night, now made an inside shot and the free throw that came with it to keep Cholet ahead 76-72 with under 5 minutes to play. Zadar's shooters had to be heard now, and here came Longin, Erjavec and Meeks - boom, boom, boom - with sucessive three-pointers to take a brief 83-81 lead with 3 minutes to play, before Barry tied it with a shot in the lane. Barry and Popovic then made 2 free throws each before Wesson took an offensive board that Barry converted with a jumper for an 85-87 Cholet lead. Perincic tied it going into the final minute, but Krasic answered for Cholet with a huge three-pointer. Popovic got to the line and hit 2 free throws to draw Zadar within 89-90. With the game in Cholet's hands, Longin made the steal and sent Popovic ahead for the layup that won it.
Tuesday, October 29, 2002