Spartak St Petersburg made a triumphant return to European basketball by beating BC Odessa of Ukraine 86-76 on the opening night of the EuroCup Elimination Round.
Antonio Porta led the way for Spartak with 16 points while Milovan Rakovic finished with 15.
Taking on an Odessa team that is led by coach Yuriy Selikhov, a man who was at the helm of Spartak six years ago when they competed in the Korac Cup – the Russian club’s last experience in Europe – the hosts went on a decisive 14-2 run over the first five minutes of the fourth quarter to open up an 80-65 advantage.
Oleg Okulov’s team stayed on top for the remainder of the contest.
Odessa will nevertheless give themselves a fighting chance as they managed to cut into the deficit at the end.
||Plus 10 points is much better than two or three points. We just have to win in Odessa.
Spartak St. Petersbourg
Spartak missed a few easy shots under the basket and the Ukrainian team’s Alexey Golyakhov poured in five points – including a three-ball in the waning seconds - to reduce the arrears.
Okulov was not overly concerned.
“I didn’t talk to my players about the score difference,” he revealed. “I just asked them to win because every win is very important for us psychologically.
“We could have finished with a bigger difference in points, but Odessa scored the three-point shot in the last seconds… no problem.
“Plus 10 points is much better than two or three points. We just have to win in Odessa.”
Andrey Ivanov, the 23-year-old Spartak guard, agreed.
“I’m in agreement with my coach,” he said. “Now we just need to win in Odessa and the score is not really important. We can make it. I’m sure!”
Selikhov will now try to engineer a victory back in Ukraine on November 6, but he starts the game trailing by 10 points since the combined score over the two legs will determine which team advances.
Both sides began the contest red hot, with Odessa burying seven of their first 11 shots while Spartak were four of six from the floor.
After a very even first half, Spartak managed to get their noses in front and went to the changing rooms with a 46-43 lead.
After the break, the teams raised the intensity on defense.
Okulov’s team got on top with a small unit that included 2.09m Croatian national team forward Damir Markota playing at center.
In addition to facing a former Spartak coach, the Russians also went up against a player who was once one of their own.
Just last season, Alexey Karvanen was the vice-captain of the Spartak team.
He said: “I knew that this was going to be a tough game. And I was sure that Spartak would not have very big score difference. I was right.
“For me it was a big pleasure to play in my home city.”
He then looked ahead to the next game.
“Spartak,” he said smiling, “Welcome to Odessa!