BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Big man Vladimir Tica was one of Ploiesti's go-to-guys in the final series |
CSU Ploiesti and Lukoil Academic Sofia have completed the successful defence of the Romanian LNB and Bulgarian NBL league titles, respectively, albeit with considerable more difficulty than last year.
Whereas both champions had swept their opponents in the finals last season, this time around they were forced to pull all stops against ambitious contenders to maintain their crown.
Reigning Romanian champions Ploiesti are a club that competed in the EuroChallenge this season and had conquered the LNB trophy with a 4-0 sweep of BC Timisoara last year.
Last week however, they suffered a demoralising 90-63 loss at home to BC Mures in Game 3 of the finals, and found themselves trailing 2-1 in this year's title series.
They bounced back immediately though to win the fourth game 89-79, then prevailed 85-79 in Game 5 on the road and clinched the series with an 83-76 triumph at home on Monday night.
Center Vladimir Tica, with a game-high 26 points and seven rebounds was the hero for the defending champions in the pivotal fifth game, as Ploiesti came back from seven points down at half-time to clinch the away victory.
In the Monday game however veteran guard Alhaji Mohammed, who joined Ploiesti after the end of their EuroChallenge campaign, was unstoppable.
Mohammed came up with a stratospheric 38-point display on the night and was the driving force behind a 13-2 run shortly after the start of the final quarter that enabled the eventual champion to take a four-point lead from their gutsy opponents.
Ploiesti managed to hold on to that advantage until the final buzzer and claim the 83-76 victory that sealed the title, to the delight of the local crowd.
Tica had 13 points and seven rebounds in Game 6, while former Romanian internationals Virgil Stanescu and Catalin Burlacu contributed 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, respectively.
Gaz Metan Medias, the Romanian club that had reached the Last 16 of the EuroChallenge finished in fourth spot in the LNB this season after losing the third-place play-off series to CS Municipal Oradea.
While this was the ninth domestic title in Ploiesti's history, Academic added a record 23rd Bulgarian league trophy to their collection on Monday and widened the gap from arch rivals Levski Sofia, who are in second place, with 17.
The two multi-winning clubs from the Bulgarian capital were precisely the NBL play-off finalists this season and arrived in the deciding fifth game on Monday with the series tied at 2-2.
Playing the decider at home, Academic established control over proceedings right from tip-off and took an early six-point lead.
Despite an attempt by Levski in the second quarter to level the scores, the hosts managed to stay in the driving seat throughout the encounter, although without ever breathing entirely comfortably until the final buzzer, which found them 86-81 winners.
Guard Brandon Heath paved the way for the Bulgarian champions with 18 points and seven assists while Daryl Watkins had 17 points and veteran Bulgarian forward Veselin Veselinov finished with 13 points and five rebounds.
Academic had swept Levski 3-0 in last year's NBL finals.