EUROCHALLENGE FINAL FOUR
TURNING POINT: Besiktas were still trailing by four points and seemed to have no answer to Szolnoki's hard-nosed defence when, just over four minutes before half-time, Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Ersin Dagli took it upon themselves with consecutive personal plays to establish the Turkish side's dominance in the paint and brought their team up by three, 29-26. Besiktas never trailed again until the end.
GAME HEROES: Besiktas's frontline. Despite fighting every battle against a much bigger Szolnoki frontcourt, Mensah-Bonsu, Dagli and Zoran Erceg gave their team much-needed second chances with their offensive rebounds.
STATS DON'T LIE: With the Turks shooting only 31 percent from the floor (an astonishing 13% from behind the three-point arc), Besiktas's 22 offensive rebounds made all the difference.
|Pops Mensah-Bonsu fighting for a loose ball with Marton Bander - The Besiktas power forward collected 13 rebounds and the Szolnoki center 14 |
Besiktas Milangaz booked their place in Sunday's EuroChallenge final in Debrecen with a 64-60 victory over Olaj Szolnoki.
The Turks, the presumed favourites, had to scrap and scrape until the bitter end.
The Final Four hosts were anything but welcome. Unproven and untested at this level, they again surpassed expectations.
In the end however, their amazing journey came up just short.
Zorac Erceg hit a game-high 17 points amid Besiktas shooting struggles but it was a team effort that ground out the chance to make amends in the competition's climax.
And they will take nothing for granted after this.
Skip Mills' three-point play gave the hosts an early 13-8 lead and defensively the underdogs were holding firm, matching Besiktas on the boards and erecting barricades in their path.
Eventually the Istanbul outfit began to assert themselves with David Hawkins levelling at 13-13 but Szolnoki declined to roll over.
Peter Por's men grabbed a 17-13 cushion at the end of the opening period and their momentum was maintained into the second.
It needed the veteran savvy of Ersin Dagli to raise Besiktas from such uncertainty.
The veteran forward produced a hook shot to grant his team only their second lead of the game with 3:25 remaining in the quarter but it was defence which did most to undermine Szolnoki's efforts.
Pops Mensah-Bonsu, a destructive force at both ends in piling in 13 points and 13 rebounds, pushed Besiktas 33-30 in front at half-time.
They would never trail again.
Up 41-40 in the middle of the third period, Besiktas held their opponents scoreless for over five minutes, embarking on a 9-0 run that threatened to kill off the hosts challenge.
Szolnoki retained ample fight within. Little by little, they clawed back from the brink, Akos Horvath and Brandon Gay hitting three-pointers to re-ignite their hopes, and then Skip Mills driving inside to polish off a 7-0 burst that brought his team level at 56-56 with 2:52 left.
The huge home support, arriving to Debrecen by bus, car and a specially chartered train, held their collective breath.
Yet when Obie Trotter fouled out with 59 seconds remaining, it seemed to puncture their hopes.
Carlos Arroyo hit four free-throws and although Szolnoki - paced by 13 from Hristo Nikolov - had three late shot attempts, none dropped and their dream of winning this title slipped away.
Besiktas still retain their grand ambitions. Battle-tested, they'll be ready for another war.