|Michael Efevberha's 18 points were not enough for Lugano Basket to avoid defeat in Bulgaria|
Lugano Basket put up a brave fight but lost at Lukoil Academic in Sofia on Tuesday and saw their hopes of reaching the Last 16 disappear.
The Bulgarian outfit won 90-81 for the fifth time in six Group C games to drop the visitors from Switzerland to 2-4.
The setback means that Sport Lisboa e Benfica will finish second in the pool no matter the result of their last Regular Season game at Tartu Rock.
With 3:52 left in the contest in Bulgaria, Lugano were threatening to spring an upset because Byron Sanders dunked to tie the game at 78-78.
Lukoil hit back with a vengeance.
On their next possession, Brandon Heath hit a driving lay-up and then Brandon Bowman buried a three-ball for an 83-78 lead.
Dusan Mladjan struck back with a shot from the arc to reduce the arrears to just two points but Bowman, after a Lukoil timeout, scored on another driving lay-up to push the advantage to 85-81 with 57 seconds to go.
After Michael Efevberha was off target from long range for Lugano, a Heath three-point play extended the lead to 88-81.
Dominic James then drove the final nail in the Lugano coffin by coming up with a steal on the ensuing inbounds play and passing to Bowman, who dunked again for the final result.
Guard James finished with a team-high 17 points and eight assists for the winners.
Todor Stoykov contributed 15 points, Heath 14 and Kaspars Kambala 13.
Travis Peterson also had 10 points and nine boards.
For Lugano, Mohamed Abukar poured in a game-high 20 points, Mladjan scored 19 and Efevberha 18.
Lugano Basket Head Coach Joseph Whelton:
"Congratulations to Lukoil, they are a great team and we played a though game tonight. I would like to especially thank my players for the effort they put on the court tonight. Not having our captain made it even more difficult for us. Lacking bench depth for the point guard position, we had our guards playing more minutes. Besides Lukoil winning by 9 points, I don't believe this is the realistic final result because Bowman had a couple of really big shots in the last few seconds of the game that increased their lead. Having in mind that this is our 1st FIBA tournament I believe it was a good experience."
Lugano Basket player Mohamed Abukar:
"It was a though game and unfortunately we were unable to win tonight. Once the Christmas break is over we can focus back to winning the Swiss championship."
LUKOIL Academic Head Coach Jovica Arsic:
"We had advantage throughout most of the game. Being tight in most of its part, the game was interesting considering the score, although in terms of the quality of the basketball played we could've done better. Having in mind the fact the game was of no importance for us, there was e level of underestimation which did not allow us to use the game tonight appropriately. However, as we move forward in the tournament of EuroChallenge I believe motivation will be greater as there will be no weak teams from here on. I expect that our game will improve in the upcoming games."
LUKOIL Academic player Dominic James:
"It was an important game for us because we wanted to prove that we deserve to end up 1st in the group. Considering our game, I believe we have absolutely realistic chances of making it to the finals of the EuroChallenge tournament. I'm pleased with my stay here - in Lukoil Academic, because we have a great team and I also have the opportunity of working with a proved specialist such as Coach Jovica Arsic."