The first and last time that Mornar Bar and Herbalife Gran Canaria took each other's measure on a basketball court, the highest-scoring non-overtime game of the 7DAYS EuroCup season so far was the result.
That 100-102 decision in Mornar's favor to open Group H of the Top 16 for both teams saw Gran Canaria make up a 10-point difference in the final minute, only to lose on late free throws and a missed opportunity to win it at the buzzer.
In the rematch on Tuesday, whose winner will receive a boost in its playoffs hopes, keep an eye on veteran power forwards Kenny Gabriel of Mornar and John Shurna of Gran Canaria. Born less than a year apart and standing at heights of 2.04 meters for Shurna and 2.05 for Gabriel, both players are in their fifth EuroCup seasons with their fourth different teams.
Until now, Gabriel's EuroCup career skewed east, with two seasons at Pinar Kariyaka Izmir and one at Turk Telekom Ankara in Turkey, separated by another at Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar in Russia. Shurna started with Valencia Basket in Spain before moving to Cedevita Zagreb in Croatia and then two seasons with MoraBanc Andorra.
Their EuroCup career stats are just as similar as their ages, heights and time in the competition. Through 71 career EuroCup games, Shurna averaged 8.4 points and 3.6 rebounds while making 57.1% of his two-point shots, 40.7% of his threes and 75.6% of his free throws. For Gabriel, who has played 55 games in the competition, the numbers are 9.8 points. 5.0 rebounds, 60.3% on twos, 42.2% on threes and 66.3% on free throws.
Despite Shurna's advantage in games played and career minutes (1,560 to 1,319), they have remarkably similar career totals, too. Gabriel has pulled 275 total rebounds to 258 for Shurna, who leads on the offensive glass, 84 to 45. Shurna has one more assist, 62 to 61, while Gabriel has the lead in blocks, 32 to 24. Shurna has hit 88 three-pointers and Gabriel 87 in their very parallel EuroCup careers.
This season, both have appeared in 14 games and played between 26 and 28 minutes on average. Again their numbers are remarkably close overall, as evidenced by an average performance index rating of 12.6 for Shurna and 11.7 for Gabriel. But how they get those numbers now is slightly different than in their career stats. Shurna is the higher scorer, with 10.4 points, and rebounder, with 5.9, as compared to Gabriel's 9.9 and 5.7, respectively. Unlike in their career averages, Gabriel this season is better from three-point distance (45.9% to 39.5%) and at the foul line (83.3% to 58.3%), while Shurna prevails in two-point accuracy (54.8% to 50.0%).
By now it will come as no surprise that these two played to a relative standoff in that first game of the Top 16. Mornar's Gabriel had a PIR of 18 based on 14 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists in 28:11 minutes. Shurna had 13 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals for a PIR of 16 in 24:45 minutes.
The close result of their first game made it clear how a single play or two can make a huge difference, especially in a short, six-game group of the Top 16. The rematch on Tuesday is even more consequential, certainly for the team that loses. If that's Gran Canaria, the former EuroCup finalists will be eliminated in that moment, stopping a streak of four seasons in the playoffs. Mornar, too, could find itself eliminated with a loss, depending on the other Group H result 24 hours later.
What's clear is that both power forwards, Shurna and Gabriel, will be challenged to not only hold up their end of a remarkably even personal matchup, statistically, but come up with the extra play or two needed to give a crucial edge to their teams at a crucial moment in their seasons.