Virtus BolognaFiere survived against a determined Cholet Basket on Sunday in Italy to win this season's EuroChallenge.
Matteo Boniciolli's team, riding the hot hand of 21-point Keith Langford, edged the French outfit 77-75 in the Final.
Virtus, who finished third at the 2007 EuroCup in Girona and lost a couple of Coppa Italias in recent times - including this year at the FuturShow Station to Montepaschi Siena - finally captured another title in front of their adoring and passionate supporters.
|Keith Langford was named the EuroChallenge Final Four MVP.|
"This is our first time. It's a great thing and we're all happy.
"I'm happy for our teammates, our fans and especially for our president Claudio Sabatini who has spent a lot on this team and believes in this team."
Cholet, behind the spirited play of Nando De Colo, Claude Marquis and Randal Falker, were excellent for most of the game but appeared to be fading in the fourth quarter.
They trailed 74-61 with 6:08 remaining after a three-ball from Earl Boykins.
But the French team launched a furious fight-back with the electric De Colo leading the way.
They closed the game on a 14-3 run.
After Langford made just one of two free throws with 24 seconds left, Cholet brought the ball up the floor and had an opportunity to tie or even win with a three-pointer.
Virtus tightened up the defense and Cholet didn't aggressively look to score until 10 seconds remained.
De Colo caught the ball behind the arc, dribbled to his left and put up a shot but missed and the ball went out of bounds.
"It was on me to take the shot," De Colo said. "I thought maybe there might have been a foul but that's how it goes."
Virtus inbounded the ball and Earl Boykins heaved it down the floor as time expired.
De Colo, who has had to wear a facemask after having his nose broken in the EuroChallenge Quarter-Final series win over BC Kyiv, walked off the court as the game's leading scorer with 24 points.
Texas native Langford, the leading scorer for Virtus in their EuroChallenge games, was voted MVP of the Final Four.
"I'm at a great club and I hope I'm here again next year," Langford said.
Marquis and Falker, Cholet's two giants, had outstanding games for Erman Kunter's team.
Marquis finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds while Falker had 11 boards to go with his 10 points.
Sharrod Ford poured in 12 points and had 12 rebounds for Virtus, the side that won the 1998 FIBA EuroLeague title over AEK Athens in Barcelona with France great Antoine Rigaudeau as their point guard.
Rigaudeau also played at Cholet and he sat courtside at Sunday's EuroChallenge.
Sabatini walked around after the win thanking fans and friends.
"This is for the city and the great basketball community of Bologna and for Italy," Sabatini said.
Erman Kunter, Cholet Head Coach:
"It was a good game, we played decent. In one period our defence and rebounding wasn't there and their offensive rebounds put us in a difficult situation. Coming back took a lot of energy. That's why I took my last time out a little early, to give my players a rest. Had we had another time out in the final minute we might have got a better shot. Virtus are a good and very well coached team and so we are proud that we could stick with them for the entire game. I cannot say if it was a foul on Nando (De Colo) on the last shot. Nando told me it was but I was too far away.Our big guys are very important to our system. Unfortunately they got in foul trouble early and thus we could not play at full strength the whole time."
Nando De Colo, Cholet Player:
"Normally we are an aggressive team. Today we only showed our full aggressiveness in the last 4 minutes of the game. Every mistake counts on the European stage. Our mistakes got punished and we had to fight back from a 14 point deficit which proved to be too much. I am very sad which I think is normal after loosing a big game like this."
Matteo Boniciolli, Bologna Head Coach:
"First of all, congratulations to Cholet. They gave a great example of how to combine a good youth program with a very successful men's team on the European stage. It does not take high paid superstars to get far in a good competition. I am really proud of my players, because we had to fight two opponents today. A great team and coach on the on hand and on the other hand the pressure of 4 lost finals in the past. There were a lot of teams that wanted to win this competition at the beginning of the year. We were among the favourites, but not the only one. So we are very happy that we came away with a title in a very strong competition.
Keith Langford, Bologna Player:
The easiest to say is that I am happy. Happy for Virtus, for my team mates, the fans and for me, too. This was my first full season in European 1st division competition. The switch on the coaching position had a big impact on my game and under coach Boniciolli I get better every day. I am thankful to Virtus because they gave me a chance and I think it paid off for both sides.