Nothing short of a miracle would give Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul any hope of rejoining the playoffs race, let alone actually reaching the next round. But that didn't stop last season's 7DAYS EuroCup champions from showing enough pride in Round 20 to alter that race in a way that other aspiring playoff teams should take as a warning.
Darussafaka welcomed seventh-place KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz on Friday with a 2-17 record and without key big man Jeremy Evans in the lineup. Down 21-29 after one quarter on its own court, losing concentration would have been easy for the hosts. But the exact opposite happened.
Darussafaka used a full-court press sparked by its bench players to inch back on the scoreboard and finally go ahead at 53-51 midway through the third quarter. The game stayed close and Baskonia re-took the lead at 60-61, but only for one possession, after which Darussafaka stayed strong right down through a free throw parade in the final minutes. Darussafaka's defense held Baskonia to 28 second-half points and forced a total of 16 turnovers on the visitors.
Baskonia boss Velimir Perasovic was clear about the difference between the two teams, even though his is desperate to make the playoffs as would-be host of this year's Final Four, while Darussafaka is playing very much for pride.
"Congratulations to Dacka. They played more tough, with more energy, and they deserve this victory," Perasovic said. "I think in the second half, our team played without energy and without toughness."
Darussafaka's players were only too aware that they are in last place because of similar home games early this season in which they played well and led often, but fell apart near the finish. Last place or no, they still want to prove they belong on the EuroLeague stage.
"We lost too many games late this year. I don't know how many, but it feels like 10 games we lost in the end," forward Zanis Peiners said. "So this was a good win for us. We'll get some good emotions, finally."
Head coach Selcuk Ernak, who joined Darussafaka in midseason, made it clear that progress in the form of more EuroLeague victories is his team's goal now.
"We are learning. The players are learning. Our staff is learning. We are taking lessons from the games that we lost," he said. "We have to be much smarter than before, and I'm glad that my players did that today."