Lappeenranta handed PAOK another setback in the EuroCup on Monday but the Greek team showed great fight during their 83-74 defeat.
The Finnish outfit, looking to claim their first win in the qualifying round after falling to a 94-82 defeat last week at CSK-VVS Samara, opened up a 55-34 lead early in the second half but weren’t able to pull away for a decisive victory.
Instead, under recently-appointed coach Kostas Flevarakis, PAOK dug in and reeled off 14 consecutive points to trail 55-48 with 4:21 to go in the third quarter.
Enter Reinar Hallik, the Finns’ 2.08m center.
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Hallik buried a three-pointer to stop the rot and restore a 10-point lead.
After Dimitrios Charitopoulos tapped in a Lee Humphrey miss, Hallik struck again from long range for a 61-50 advantage.
When an Edmund Saunders dunk with less than two minutes to go in the third made it 62-54, Hallik responded with another three-point dagger for a 65-54 advantage.
The trio of three-balls had accounted for Hallik’s first points of the game, and they were very timely.
PAOK were amazing, though. They refused to give in, and this bodes well for their season.
After Lappeenranta stretched the lead to 69-56, Antoine Gillespie and Saunders nailed jumpers, and then Gillespie buried a shot from the arc to make it 69-63 with 8:00 remaining.
The PAOK players on the court and the bench started to look as if they were going to pull off a terrific comeback.
But Hallik came to the rescue yet again, hitting his fourth straight three-pointer to take the lead back to nine.
Flevarakis’ team, who beat Panionios at the weekend, would get no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Petri Virtanen led the Finns in scoring with 20 points, but there was no doubt who the hero was and that was Hallik, the man who four times settled his team’s nerves by hitting three-pointers.
He had 12 points, and finished four of five (80%) from long range.
Saunders and Humphrey each had 14 points for PAOK, who won the rebounding battle 44-31 but lost the game. They were nine of 20 (45%) from three-point range, while Lappeenranta were 15 of 32 (46.8%).
Yannis Demertzis, player PAOK BC:
"We started very badly, and gave them too much room to roam. Our second quarter was terrible, and after that the game was over even when we still came back to fight. A totally bad game for us, I'im very dissapointed."
Petri Virtanen, player Lappeenranta:
"I'm very proud of our team, because even when PAOK came close in the end, we still had the energy to jump back into the game. If only anybody knew why it is so hard to play well when holding such a big point big advance, basketball would be an easy game to play. I'm very proud of this first victory."
Kosta Flevarakis, coach PAOK:
"This was good practise for us. When I came to coach this team they said that the main thing is to play in the Greek league. We still need more practise to continue and stay in the A1 in Greece. We were tired after travelling. Lappeenranta had more energy and congratulations to them for the victory."
Mika Turunen, coach Lappeenranta:
"We had three targets before the season started. To win the Finnish Cup, which we did, finish among the top-8 in Eurocup and win the Finnish title. Now we realize that we have a good chance to go to the next round and therefore complete one of our targets. I am very happy of our team, and now everybody can start their Christmas vacation with some self-confidence."