2012 Year In Review: EuroChallenge

18 December 2012

EUROCHALLENGE

Besiktas Milangaz celebrating their win in the EuroChallenge 2012 Final
The EuroChallenge title is the first international basketball title in Besiktas' club history

2011/12 was one of the best seasons in the history of the EuroChallenge and the year that Besiktas Milangaz, and to a certain extent Turkish basketball, took a thorn out of their side.

The basketball team of the Istanbul club have always existed in the shadow of their most famed football section, but last season they stole the limelight both inside the country and internationally.

The conclusion to a perfect campaign came in June, when Besiktas defeated Anadolu Efes in the Turkish BEKO Ligi play-off finals to win their first domestic league title since 1975.

They had already won the Turkish Cup and, most importantly, the EuroChallenge.

When coach Ergin Ataman and his players lifted the trophy in Debrecen, Hungary on 29 April, they ended a long wait for Turkish basketball.

The only European title for the country at club level had come in 1996, when Efes Pilsen conquered the Korac Cup.

 

REGULAR SEASON

Besiktas made an enormous declaration of intentions before the start of the season, by convincing US international and NBA All Star Deron Williams to join the team for the duration of the lockout in the NBA.

As if that was not enough, they also brought in Turkish international Semih Erden, who also could not play with the Cleveland Cavaliers due to the labour dispute in the NBA.

No winning team was built in one day though and the Istanbul side only played in the EuroChallenge Regular Season because they suffered the disappointment of falling to Dexia Mons-Hainaut in the Eurocup qualification round.

It took a while for Williams to adapt to the European style of play but Besiktas grew in confidence and cohesion and from then on there would be only minor bumps along the rest of the way.

Shortly before returning to the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets, the American point guard put his stamp on the EuroChallenge with a memorable performance in the home game against BG Göttingen.

Williams went 17-for-23 from the floor to collect 50 points, a record that would remain unassailable for the reminder of the season, and registered an efficiency rating of 44, to lead Besiktas to an 105-94 victory in week 3 action.

Besiktas won Group B undefeated while eventual finalists Elan Chalon finished top of Group E with a 5-1 record.

EWE Baskets Oldenburg, in Group A, were the only team apart from Besiktas to emerge from the Regular Season with a perfect 6-0.

 

Triumph Lyubertsy head coach Vasiliy Karasev, EuroChallenge Final Four 2012
Vasiliy Karasev was promoted to head coach at Triumph Lyubertsy during the 2011/12 season

LAST 16

The team that returned from the winter break though looking as the hot favourites to go all the way was Mad-Croc Fuenlabrada.

The Spanish side produced one amazing performance after the other and defeated Besiktas both home and away, to top Group K with a 6-0 record, leaving the Turkish outfit in second.

BK Ventspils won Group I and Chorale Roanne Basket snatched second place from Oldenburg, who dropped inexplicably in the Last 16.

All four teams finished with a 3-3 record in Group J, but Elan Chalon and Szolnoki Olaj took the top two spots, by virtue of a better goal average over Telekom Baskets Bonn and Okapi Aalstar.

In Group L, Artland Dragons took first place with 5-1, but the crucial development was Triumph Lyubertsy's rebirth.

Everyone thought the Russian side were dead and burried after they started the Last 16 with three consecutive losses, but once coach Vasiliy Karasev was handed the reins they stormed back to win three in a row to take second place, and earn a spot in the quarter-finals, against all odds.

 

QUARTER-FINAL PLAY-OFFS

It was precisely Triumph that produced the biggest upset of the quarter-finals.

The Russians stunned Fuenlabrada 76-75 in the first game in Spain to take the lead but then lost 78-68 at home.

Order seemed to have be restored with the series returning to Madrid but Triumph, true to form, still had the biggest surprise in store.

They dominated the hosts from start to finish and won the tie-breaking encounter 80-65 to clinch a spot in the Final Four that seemed all but impossible a few weeks previously.

Szonoki achieved a similar feat against Ventspils. The Latvians won comfortably the first game at home, 82-63 but the Hungarians beat them at home, 82-76, to send the series to a third game.

Ventspils looked set to make the most of their home advantage once more when Szolnoki came back with a big second half to claim an 82-78 victory and leave their hosts staring at the scoreborad in disbelief and wondering how could they have missed out on the Final Four.

In a sign of things to come, Besiktas and Chalon were the only two teams to win their play-off series with a sweep, prevailing 2-0 over Artland Dragons and Roanne, respectively.

Besiktas in the meantime had replaced on the roster Williams with Carlos Arroyo and Erden with Pops Mensah-Bonsu, in a move that would later prove key to their success.

 

Pops Mensah-Bonsu of Besiktas Milangaz - EuroChallenge Final Four 2012 MVP
Pops Mensah-Bonsu was voted MVP of the EuroChallenge Final Four 2012

FINAL FOUR

Szolnoki were awarded the Final Four but they hosted it in Debrecen, as their home arena did not fulfil the minimum requirements for the season-ending event.

The semi-final pairs were Szolnoki v Besiktas and Chalon v Triumph.

In the first semi-final, the hosts got off to a good start behind the support of their enthusiastic fans, but as the initial thrust subsided Besiktas gradually imposed their will.

The Turks took the lead in the second quarter and held on until the final buzzer to punch their ticket to the final with a 64-60 victory.

Besiktas power forward Zoran Erceg led all scorers with 17 points but Mensah-Bonsu was instrumental in their success as he collected a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds despite staying on the floor only 21 minutes due to foul trouble.

Elan Chalon had received fair warning of Triumph's ability to punch above their weight and were in no mood of falling victims of an upset in the other semi-final.

The French side were disciplined and focused right from tip-off and dominated proceedings for almost the entire encounter to claim an 84-69 win.

Blake Schilb was immense for the winners, scoring 29 points on 11-for-15 shooting from the floor.

The youthful Russians though recovered immediately from the defeat and capped off their season with another unexpected result on the final day of the competition.

Szolnoki tried their best to give their fans the consolation of a third-place finish, but were out-gunned 94-87 by Triumph.

In a game that featured glaring individual performances on both sides, Jerry Jefferson collected a double-double of 37 points and 10 rebounds and Sergey Karasev showed glimpses of his well-rounded talent with 25 points.

Obie Trotter hit five of his eight shots from behind the arc and finished with 33 points in a losing effort.

The stage was set for an exciting final and neither Besiktas nor Chalon wanted to disappoint.

Besiktas came out guns blazing and built a 27-15 lead at the first buzzer, but Chalon tightened the screws on defence and started chipping away on the deficit.

The French tied the scores at 46 shortly after the start of the third quarter and the two teams exchanged blows for the remainder of the period.

Besiktas took a slim two-point lead into the final frame but when Chalon leveled it again at 57-57, the Turkish side decided they needed some breathing space.

They used a 9-2 run to regain the lead and kept their opponents at arm's length the rest of the way.

Besiktas won 91-86 to win the trophy amid jubilation on the court and in Turkey, thanks in no small part to Mensah-Bonsu's incredible 26-point, 20-rebound double-double showing.

Erceg also collected a double-double, with 25 points and 15 rebounds, but the British international edged out his team-mate in voting and added the EuroChallenge MVP award to his gold medal.

Steed Tchicamboud had 19 points and seven assists for Chalon who, just like Besiktas, would go on to win their domestic league title, in a testament of the quality of the 2012 EuroChallenge finalists.

 


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