It appeared that the fates were conspiring against Joventut Badalona ahead of Wednesday night’s must-win match-up against Tofas Bursa in Group H. It was a crucial game for both teams, with Tofas having the chance to maintain a perfect record at the halfway stage of the Top 16 while Joventut knew it could move into a share of the lead if it could take the win at the Palau Olimpic de Badalona, where it boasted a perfect 6-0 record.
But that was the first problem. The torrential rain and howling winds of Storm Gloria caused severe damage to Joventut’s home arena at the start of the week, forcing a hurried venue change to FC Barcelona’s Palau Blaugrana. Heading just a few kilometres down the coast wasn’t such an inconvenience in logistical terms, but being denied the opportunity to defend its 100% record at the Palau Olimpic was certainly a setback Carles Duran’s team could have done without. And another big blow – a double blow, in fact – came just a couple of hours before tip-off, when key players Luke Harangody and Nenad Dimitrijevic were both ruled out of the game after being laid low by a stomach virus.
With veteran guard Nikos Zisis also removed from the roster after leaving the club, that left Joventut short-handed with only ten active players – including teenager Vinicius Da Silva, who did not set foot on the court – for the encounter against unbeaten Tofas, and in the first half the Turkish team appeared poised to take full advantage of the those woes. Tofas raced into a double-digit lead in the second quarter, and the signs were ominous for the ‘host’ on its unfamiliar ‘home’ floor.
But a key change in momentum came immediately after half-time, when Joventut launched a 9-0 run to tie the game and gain self-belief which also was transmitted to the fans, who started to feel at home in their new surroundings and became a factor with their added volume. Klemen Prepelic was clearly the key man in securing the eventual victory with his club record 37 points but, as he pointed out after the game, others also played their part in the crucial latter stages: Alen Omic made a couple of key baskets, Joel Parra struck a pair of clutch triples, Perrin Buford came up with a huge block, and – perhaps most importantly – the whole team gave an outstanding defensive effort to restrict Tofas to just 36 points in the second half, and only 16 in the fourth quarter.
At the end of it all, Joventut had maintained its perfect home record by winning away from its usual home venue (a good quiz question in years to come), and set up a thrilling rematch between the teams next week in Turkey in a Group H perfectly poised with three teams – Joventut, Tofas and Unicaja Malaga – all tied at the top midway through the Top 16.