|Andrea Cinciarini gets a well-deserved hug from head coach Massimiliano Menetti|
TURNING POINT: Reggio Emilia pulled away decisively in the third quarter and ended up extending their 33-28 half-time cushion to a 54-43 lead as they scored their first points in transition and Ojars Silins with James White hit contested shots from long range. Gaziantep have been the protagonists of many a brave comeback this season, but this proved a mountain the Turkish team could not climb.
GAME HERO: Andrea Cinciarini was the soul, brains and lungs of Reggio Emilia in the semi-final and scored eight crucial points in the second frame, when the hosts slowed down on the offensive end. He collected a double-double of 13 points, 12 rebounds and dished out six assists.
STATS DON'T LIE: Reggio Emilia's assist-to-turnover ration was a remarkably effective 17/7 while Gaziantep's figure amounted to a poor 9/15. The Final Four hosts, who also stole 11 balls, rendered useless in this way the Turkish side's superiority on the glass.
Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia beat the defensive-minded Royal Hali Gaziantep in their own game on Friday night and claimed a 66-55 triumph in the second semi-final of the EuroChallenge Final Four in Bologna.
Logic would suggest that if the battle of EuroChallenge debutants were to be decided on defence, Gaziantep held a distinct advantage since they arrived in Bologna with the label of the best defensive team in the competition.
Yet Reggio Emilia invested on Friday an endless amount of energy and determination on every single pick'n'roll switch and on every loose ball battle and they contested shots as if their lives depended on it.
As a reward, they will face Triumph Lyubertsy in the big final on Sunday.
"Our team has acquired a completely different defensive mindset in the last month or so," Reggio Emilia head coach Massimiliano Menetti explained afterwards.
"For example James White, who had a not so great game on offence, was simply amazing on defence, in terms of his positioning, his focus.
"My guys never let Gaziantep take an easy shot, during the game they scored at the buzzer like four of five times.
"Playing this kind of game we could run, and this is what we like to do, especially at home."
And run they surely did in the opening minutes to jump to a 17-6 lead with 3:25 left in the first frame on a Riccardo Cervi dunk.
Murat Goktas however scored all of his five points in the remainder of the period and, in tandem with Dejan Borovnjak, inspired a 10-2 Gaziantep burst which enabled the Turks to reduce to 19-16 at the first buzzer.
Gaziantep's trademark tough-as-nails defence was now finally at work and Domen Lorbek, with a floating lay-up, tied the scores at 22 with 6:40 remaining in the second frame.
Rimantas Kaukenas however, with a bold personal play, restored a 27-22 lead for Reggio with 4:32 left in the period, caused Gaziantep head coach Jure Zdovc to call a time out and the local crowd to erupt for joy in the stands.
A fantastic buzzer-beater from Andrea Cinciarini maintained the gap at five points, 33-28, and kept the fans warm during the half-time break.
When play resumed after the interval, Reggio delivered the decisive blow.
An Ojars Silins triple from the top of the key made it 43-31 for the hosts and 6:24 from the third buzzer Kaukenas, with a lay-up in transition, gave Reggio their biggest lead until that point, 45-31.
Silins, who drilled four of his five three-point attempts on the nigtht, took it upon himself to maintain the lead in double-digits until the end of the third and midway through the fourth, Reggio increased the lead to 62-46 on a Kaukenas jumper.
Even the most optimistic fan of the Turkish side knew that a comeback miracle was not going to materialise after this point, although the brave Gaziantep briefly reduced the gap to nine points.
Silins finished with a team-high 14 points for the winners, Cinciarini had 13 points and 12 rebounds, while White and Kaukenas collected 12 points each, the latter also dishing out six assists.
For Gaziantep, Borovnjak had 14 points and seven rebounds and Oliver Stevic picked up a double-double of 10 points and boards in losing efforts.