Last year's FIBA Europe Champions Cup winner Aris Thessaloniki had a tough 40 minutes in their league opening game in Finland. The Finnish home team Honka was very close to surprising not only the Greeks, but also the 4,000 local basketball fans in attendance.
Both teams played a cautious first half. Aris had a few chances to build a lead, but Honka managed to catch them up every time. John Bailey (Aris) and Heikki Zitting (Honka) played the biggest role on the court.
|Honka's Aki Aulander dunks on fellow Finn Anti Nikkila|
Honka showed their fans that only a victory from this game would satisfy them. The Finns were fighting for every rebound in defense and offense. After three minutes of the second half, the Aris lead was down to 4 (47-51). Honka’s point guard Alton Mason (24 points and 3 rebounds) and especially MVP of the game, center Aki Ulander (17 points and 12 rebounds) used every open position.
Last quarter started with a three-pointer from Honka guard Alton Mason. Honka was only two points down (57-59). After that home team didn’t let Aris take more than a seven-point lead and the spectators were treated to a real thriller.
Mason missed a couple of shots and Honka had a few fatal turnovers, which proved to be enough for Aris to win.
While Honka won the offensive rebounding battle (15 - 8) and fought until the last minute, their defense was too often forced to foul the opponents. Aris had 48 free throws and they made 36 points of those.
Nestoras Kommatos (21 points and 6 rebounds), Fedor Likholitov (12 points and 8 rebounds) and Nikolaos Vetoulas who made ten points of his total 13 from the free throw line, were the players that earned the points for Greeks.
|Honka's Alton Mason dives for a loose ball|
Honka Head Coach, Mihailo Pavicevic was happy how his team fought, but he wasn’t that that satisfied when he saw the stats.
"Of course I want to congratulate our opponents. I’m also very proud of my players and how they played. Anyway, we lost this game by four points. We had only 19.2% of our 3-point shots, well that’s the game, but we also missed 12 free throws. That’s an easy way to lose game like this," Pavicevic said.