BC Strumica prevailed in a remarkable second leg encounter against Cedevita Zagreb 75-69 to stay alive in the EuroCup.
After a 76-72 defeat in Zagreb, Jovica Arsic’s men returned to FYR Macedonia banking on their incredible home support to help them come back and win by at least five points to reach the Elimination Round 2 of the competition.
The fans were loud as always, but Strumica’s progression looked unlikely with two minutes remaining in the first half after Cedevita went on a 9-1 run to lead 36-27 for a 13-point advantage on aggregate.
Arsic called a time out to sharpen the focus of his team and when play resumed, they were a different team.
Miljan Pupovic grabbed the offensive rebound after a missed three-ball from Dime Tasovski and scored and then added a lay-up after a steal from team-mate Darko Sokolov.
Tasovski finished the half with a pair of free throws and Strumica went to the changing rooms losing 36-33 and still trailing by seven on aggregate but nevertheless feeling much better about their chances.
A Nenad Delic basket after play resumed completed the 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 36-35 before Jeffrey Graves stopped the rot with a lay-up for the visitors.
Cedevita managed to keep their noses in front until 4:20 remained in the third quarter when center Pupovic took his tally to 10 points with another lay-up for a 45-44 lead.
Strumica’s Ivan Bosnjak, then Nino Primorac of Cedevita and Sokolov hit three-pointers to leave the home side ahead by four.
Then Eftem Bogojev added a basket for a 53-47 lead and Strumica were suddenly in front in the tie.
Cedevita refused to buckle.
In the fourth quarter with less than four minutes remaining, Damir Milacic struck from long range for a 60-57 Cedevita lead and Arsic’s men looked in trouble.
But they maintained their poise and the rest of the night belonged to Strumica.
Bogojev scored and was fouled. He converted the three-point player to take his haul to 18 on the night.
Pupovic followed with a lay-up to leave the tie all square with 2:53 remaining.
Milacic revived Cedevita’s hopes by nailing a three-pointer – they were nine of 18 (50%) on the night – to give the visitors a three-point lead on aggregate.
Bogojev answered with back-to-back lay-ups to put Strumica on their way.
Pupovic finished the home side’s scoring with two free throws for a 75-68 lead before Frano Colak added a free throw in vain for Cedevita.
It was the free throw line that arguably cost the Croatian team a chance of advancing to the Elimination Round 2 because they finished six of 14 (42%) on the night compared to Strumica’s 13 of 18 (72%).
Bogojev had a game-high 23 points for Strumica, who now face Lokomotiv Rostov in the next Elimination Round 2.