|Péter Lóránt was one of the cornerstones of Szolnoki Olaj's convincing win at Tartu|
Szolnoki Olaj suffocated Tartu University Rock 78-60 on the road on Tuesday in the do-or-die Game 3 of their quarter-final play-off series to claim the last ticket to the 2014 EuroChallenge Final Four.
The Hungarian side will face Triumph Lyubertsy in the semi-finals, in what will be their second appearance in the Final Four tournament in three years.
In stark contrast to the high-scoring first two games in this series, Game 3 proved a rather cagey affair with both opponents looking overly cautious and unwilling to open up the pace during the first half.
Szolnoki were comfortable allowing Tartu to take long-range shots, but with the occasion weighing heavily on players' shoulders the hosts went only 2-of-9 from beyond the arc early on and their confidence was visibly dented.
The visitors made good use of Marton Bader's towering presence down low and although the big man was not on his best shooting night he drew a foul almost on every other touch and kept his calm from the charity stripe, scoring 10 points in the first half on 8-of-10 free throws.
Gert Dorbek was at this stage the only Tartu player able to connect with the basket on a regular basis and, were it not for his 12 first-half points, often on daring long two-point shots from six meters out, Szolnoki would have had led by more than 32-29 at the half-time break.
When Justin Holiday got the hot hand from beyond the arc in the third quarter, Szolnoki found some offensive rhythm and managed to pull away with relative ease and maintain their hosts at arm's length until the end.
Peter Lorant with a lay-up made it 43-34 for Szolnoki with 4:06 remaining in the third and forced Tartu coach Gert Kullamäe to call early his second time-out after the break, no doubt aware of the significance of a nine-point lead in such a low-scoring game.
Once play resumed however, Tartu turned the ball over and Bader with an imperial dunk gave Szolnoki a 45-34 lead, the first time the gap reached double digits on the night.
Szolnoki went into the final frame leading 51-39 but the daring Augustas Peciukevicius scored eight of his 10 points within just four minutes to breath some life into the Tartu offence and the Estonians reduced to 58-50.
This was as close as the hosts would get though, as Holiday received the ball on the left wing 4:58 from the final buzzer and sunk his fourth triple on the night to restore Szolnoki's double-digit lead, 61-50.
On the next possession, David Vojvoda hit a fade-away long two at the end of the shot-clock and after Tartu squandered two opportunities to cut the gap off successive offensive rebounds, Bader made it 65-51 from the foul line as there was only 3:37 left to play.
Bader and Holiday led the way for Szolnoki with 18 points apiece, while Lorant collected a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Dorbek went without a score in the second half and finished with 12 points, while Tanel Kurbas had 11 points for Tartu in defeat.
Marton Bader, Szolnok Olaj:
"This was about one game and both teams are very similar. The pressure was more on Tartu - they played at home, the homecrowd excpected a lot from them. I´m sorry that Tartu couldn't make it, because it's great crowd and they have had a good season. For us the important thing is that we have a great team and good team spirit. Our team is always together and that's why we won, we never lost control of the game and we are very proud of that [fact]."
Dragan Aleksic, Szolnok Olaj head coach:
"First of all congratulations to Tartu as they have played a good competition. We expected that they will be under pressure - everything or nothing. We made our tactics in order to survive the first five minutes. We achieved that and afterwards we controlled the game and knew exactly what to do. They started hurrying shots and missing open shots. I tried to take the pressure off [my players] before the game and we knew exactly how they played. We were focused and I´m really proud of my guys that they were totally concentrated on the court, although it was sometimes very loud."
Marek Doronin, Tartu Rock:
"Today as a team we were burnt out a little. It was a first loss at home this year and we haven´t shot so few points before. Everybody wanted to do well and we couldn´t handle the pressure and were thinking too much. We played good defence in the first half, but if you can´t score enough in the quarter-finals then you can´t win, especially at home."
Gert Kullamäe, Tartu Rock head coach:
"Congratulations to Szolnok for qualifying; they deserved to win the series. I think it is one of the best opponents that play as a team who we have played this season. They have a lot of power, especially after [Marton] Bader came back. They played a good game tonight. One our forwards Janar Talts was not feeling well tonight. The pressure at home was too much for us today and this is why Szolnok goes to the Final Four and we stop here."