Triumph Lyubersty outgunned EuroChallenge Final Four hosts Szolnoki Olaj 94-87, to deny them third place at the season-ending tournament.
The Russian side that came to the Final Four party almost uninvited, a team that was all but eliminated from contention after the first three games of the Last 16, saved their biggest surprise of the season for last.
If Triumph finishing in third place in this year's EuroChallenge is an outcome that seemed less than likely before tip-off, it looked almost impossible after the first minutes of the game.
|Szolnoki Olaj point guard Obie Trotter came up with an enormous performance but it was not enough to prevent Triumph Lyubertsy from beating the EuroChallenge hosts to third place|
Szolnoki entered the contest with the intention to make clear from the beginning that they were a team on a mission.
This was a game their fans wanted them to win and every player on the team would fight hard to make sure they exit ‘their' tournament on a high note.
Bulgarian forward Hristo Nikolov was the man trusted by Szolnoki coach Peter Por with the task to keep the Triumph and Russian PBL league top scorer, Jeffrey Jefferson, away from the Hungarian basket.
He succeeded in the first ten minutes. Jefferson was practically not allowed anywhere near the paint and was kept at four points in the opening period, all in the open court.
Triumph coach Vasily Karasev was obliged to call a time-out as early as at 5:26 before the end of the period and his team down, 12-6.
It didn't improve things a great deal for the Russians, as the hosts increased the lead to 16-6 after the time-out, until a Sergey Karasev jumper stopped the rot at 3:33 from the first buzzer.
The determined Szolnoki though could almost do no wrong until that point.
They reached their biggest lead of the game, 21-8, with three minutes left to play in the first quarter and their guards hitting 5-of-8 shots from 3-point range.
The remaining time in the period however was a first sign of things to come, as a Kuzyakin and-one play made it 24-16 and was followed by a Kyle Landry 3-pointer to immediately reduce the gap.
The hosts led 27-21 at the first buzzer and restored an eight-point lead in the beginning of the second period, but five consecutive points from Karasev cut their lead to just three, 31-28.
Landry made it 33-31 with less than six minutes yet to play in the quarter and coach Péter Pór called a time-out.
It didn't help. A Jefferson dunk tied the scores at 33 and after a Trotter jumper, Karasev gave Triumph the lead for the first time since the opening minute with a fantastic 3-point shot in transition.
Another Karasev trey, this time from the corner, earned Triumph a 43-39 lead with just over three minutes left to halftime.
Two consecutive Jefferson dunks in the open court from Szolnoki turnovers made it 49-39, their biggest cushion at that point.
The hosts fought back and a Mills 3-pointer cut the lead to only three just before the halftime buzzer.
Szolnoki's game plan had already been derailed though, with Karasev finishing the half with 19 points, while Jefferson had 16.
Triumph headed into the locker rooms up 49-46, having established a shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach to the first half.
The hard-nosed hosts had dominated the rebounds with 21, but were forced to eight turnovers already at that point as nerves were starting to settle in.
Things changed shortly after the break.
Coach Karasev called a time-out only four minutes into the third quarter.
Triumph were still up, 52-51, but had only scored three points since the break and were losing control of the rhythm of the game.
Szolnoki came from the locker rooms cleverly looking to stop all this high-scoring madness by taking the game to 20-second possessions.
They succeeded, but Triumph's match-up zone defence, completely focused on keeping an almost superhuman Obbie Trotter at bay, denied the hosts open looks and forced still more turnovers.
Determination though goes a long way. It was at least enough to fuel the hosts to an ultimate push to reclaim the lead.
Akos Horvath split two free throws and cut the gap to just one, 60-59 with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
On the next possession, Trotter found just a few centimetres of open space to put the hosts up, 62-60, with a 3-pointer.
Marton Bader capped an 11-1 run with a lay-up to bring the hosts up 66-61 at the end of the third quarter.
Trotter had already turned Szolnoki's quest for third place into a one-man mission by this point.
His incredible 3-pointer from eight metres over Karasev's long arms made it 71-65, but Jefferson replied with three consecutive buckets to level the game again, 71-71.
The hosts needed a reply fast and they had just the man to come up with it.
An impossible four-point play by Trotter, who was fouled on a long 3-point shot, made it 75-71, with 6:22 left to the final buzzer.
Trotter would take the lead even further to seven, 81-74, with only 4:21 left to play.
The hosts did not have any more fuel left in the tank though.
Triumph patiently clawed their way back until two free-throws by McKee and a three-pointer by Landry put them up, 86-82, with less than two minutes left on the clock.
Szolnoki had a last chance 50 seconds before the final buzzer and down by four, 88-84, but it was a messy affair, the ball inexplicably never went to Trotter's hands and they ended up turning it over for Triumph to effectively seal the win.
It is not an exaggeration to say that a fantastic trio effectively won the game for the Russian side.
Despite his slow start off the blocks, Jefferson finished with 37 points and ten rebounds, Karasev had 25 and Landry 20.
These three, under the guidance of coach Karasev, were the ones that steered Triumph to victory despite the occasional bumps along the way.
The truly sensational at times Trotter was left almost fighting alone for long spells.
He finished with 33 points in a losing effort.