Bulgarian champion Lukoil Academic stayed in the Last 16 race by prevailing 84-88 over Barons/LMT Riga in a tough road thriller in group D on Tuesday. Academic survived 15 fourth-quarter points by Riga native Armands Skele to avenge last week's home loss against Barons and tie the Latvian champs with a 1-3 record. Tony Akins led Academic with 14 points and 6 rebounds, but most importantly, he scored the game's most important basket to help Academic seal the win. Chavdar Kostov matched Akins with 14 points, nailing 4 of the visitors' impressive 14 triples, twice as many as Barons. Three other Academic scorers reached double figures, as Dimitar Angelov netted 13 points, Hristo Nikolov had 12 and Todor Stoykov 10 for the winners. The brilliant Skele put Barons on his back in the fourth quarter, but his 15 points in the last 10 minutes were not enough. Skele finished his impressive performance with 26 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, while big man Demetrius Alexander worked hard inside for a double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds, 8 of them on the offensive glass. Gustas Giedrius scored 12 points and dished 5 assists and Charles Rhodes added 10 points for the hosts. Academic and Barons can still make it to the Last 16, though Dynamo Moscow is in a more favorable position at 2-2, having won over both teams in the first two games of the Regular Season.
Though Tencho Banev stole the ball to open the scoring for the guests, Barons were ready with a put-in by Alexander and 2 layups by Skele. Banev responded with a dunk on the other end, but no other Academic player scored in the first four-and-a-half minutes, as a Gustas triple gave the hosts an early 9-4 lead. Akins shined with a rare four-point play for Academic, before Martins Kravcenko fuelled a 6-0 Barons run with a three-pointer of his own. Alexander showed the way with 5 points and Skele kept attacking, assisting to Kaspars Berzins on a dunk and adding a layup himself to widen the margin to double digits at 23-13. Angelov came to the rescue for Academic, completing on the visitors' second four-point play and adding a layup that would be his ninth point of the quarter to cut the lead to 26-19 after the first 10 minutes. Angelov stayed hot with another bucket to start the second quarter, Akins scored of Angelov's miss, and then Nikolov and Kostov added 3 straight triples to cap the 2-13 run, and suddenly the Bulgarian champs were up by 28-33. Gustas went to work with 6 points and 2 assists for Barons, but Kostov stayed hot with 5 more points. A previously quiet Stoykov scored 7 of Academic's last 9 to make sure the guests stayed in front at 43-47 at the halftime.
Alexander was determined to lead Barons in the third quarter, grabbing 3 offensive rebounds and converting them to 4 points to even the score. After Kostov and Gustas exchanged triples, strong inside play by Rhodes helped the hosts to overtake the lead at 56-54. But then Academic stepped up big on defense, not allowing Barons a single point during the next four minutes, as Angelov showed the way with a block and a charge. The guests took advantage of the hosts' scoring draught to organize a 0-10 run, capped by Nikolov's third triple of the night. Finally, Corey Smith made 3 points for Barons, but Stoykov matched him on the other end, and it was 59-67 with 10 minutes to go. Skele started the fourth quarter by outscoring the guests 4-0, dunking on his second bucket to force Academic head coach Lubomir Minchev to call a timeout. After the break Skele scored another layup, and after Riste Stefanov converted on the other end, Skele was again in the centre of attention with another dunk, cutting the margin to 67-69. But the visitors continued their impressive shootout, as Kostov, Stefanov and Akins made 3 triples in about a minute. But Skele just wouldn't surrender, getting inside for another layup and nailing a triple of his own. Then Rhodes dunked twice, assisted by Skele on his second one, to tie the game at 78-78 with 2 minutes to go. Angelov made a crucial layup to put Academic ahead and Akins added 2 free throws that were matched by 2 from Skele on the other end. Rhodes made an important steal and Alexander drew a foul to hit both free throws, once again tying things up at 82-82. But Academic didn't get intimidated by the Riga crowd, as Akins muscled his way through for a three-point play, and Kostov stole the ball on the next possession and dished it to Nikolov, who made another three-point play for an 82-88 lead. Skele dishes to Berzins on the other end, but the Latvian champs ran out of time, while Academic's Last 16 dream could live on.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008