|Todor Stoykov and Lukoil Academic kept rolling in the EuroChallenge with an opening win at Maccabi Haifa in Group I|
Maccabi Haifa looked as if they might come up with a big win against Lukoil Academic on Tuesday night but then endured a spectacular collapse and crashed to defeat in the EuroChallenge Last 16 opener for both sides.
On top of the Group I game 69-63 with 33 seconds to go in the third period, the Israeli club was outscored 26-1 over the next eight and a half minutes and lost, 95-78.
Tencho Banev and winter break-signing Bruno Sundov each had 15 points for Lukoil, who in stark contrast to Haifa reached this stage of the competition with five victories in six Regular Season games.
Haifa, on the other hand, progressed with a 3-3 record and only advanced on the last night when Deutsche Bank Skyliners defeated BC Khimik.
Their patchy form in Europe, and struggles in Israel, led to a change in coaching.
Elad Hasin was replaced by Ami Nawi and Haifa also signed veteran guard Jermaine Jackson.
All went according to plan until the end of the third quarter and it was Dominic James, the outstanding Lukoil guard, who pulled the trigger on the decisive spurt.
He fed Banev who dunked to start the decisive run and Damjan Stojanovski followed with a three-ball to cut the gap to 69-68 at the end of the third quarter.
Brandon Heath then kept the momentum going in the fourth quarter when he picked off a Marco Killingsworth pass and raced down the court for a lay-up and a 70-69 lead.
As Lukoil poured in the points, Haifa fell into disarray though much of that had to do with the improved defense of the visitors from Sofia, Bulgaria.
When it was over, Lukoil hadn't missed their big Latvian center Kaspars Kambala at all.
Kambala left after the Regular Season to play professionally in Turkey, which led to the signing of Sundov.
The Croatian was six of seven inside the arc and one of two from long range.
James finished with 14 points and eight assists.
Maccabi Haifa Head Coach Ami Nawi:
"I saw many good things in our first half, and many bad things in the second half, most of them were not directly attached to basketball. Basketball is a team game, and if you don't give yourself to the team - that's an alert. We looked terribly bad in the second half, when we got many 3 pointers, and took our heads down."
Maccabi Haifa player Germain Jackson:
"We just missed on our defensive assignments on the final quarter, and this was the difference. Basketball is a game of runs, and after we had our good run they had their own run, and we could not come back."
Lukoil Academic Head Coach Jovica Arsic:
"We played bad in the first half because we were nervous. But when you play good defense everything is easier, and it's easier to play also in the offence."
Lukoil Academic player Bozhidar Avramov:
"We played soft in defense in the first half, and spoke about the fact that we have to improve the defense. If you don't believe you're going to win you should not play basket ball. The only difference between the quarters was the defense."