Krasnye Krylia and EWE Baskets Oldenburg continued their unbeaten EuroChallenge march on Tuesday, while every other team in Groups K and L now has one win to their name in the Last 16.
|Vitaliy Kovalenko led a balanced Khimik offense with 14 points|
The Dolphins were left thinking on Tuesday night that they had missed a chance to take a major step towards the quarter-final play-offs, but they fell to a very determined Khimik side that knew exactly what they wanted and how to get it.
During a first half that could hardly be any more balanced, the lead changed hands 12 times until the hosts arrived at the interval on top, but with a very fragile advantage, at 37-36.
The third quarter was decisive, as it was the only period in the clash that any of the two teams scored more than 21 points or won by more than two.
It went to the visitors, 26-18, and it was enough to give them some breathing space ahead of the nerve-wrecking final frame.
The Ukrainian side held on to the lead and never allowed the hosts to reduce the gap to less than two points again until the final buzzer, to escape with a good-as-gold 81-76 victory, their first in the Last 16.
It was definitely not down to their superiority on the glass, as they lost the battle of the boards emphatically, collecting only 28 rebounds to the hosts' 37.
The key was rather Khimik's collective effort on offence, as coach Zvezdan Mitrovic saw his players stay persistent in looking for the open man and dishing out 22 assists.
"This was our second game without Steven Burtt and it was much better than the first," Tofas head coach Ahmet Caki commented on Tuesday night, comparing his team's play against Krasnye Krylia to the 93-80 loss to TED Ankara in the Turkish BEKO Ligi last Saturday.
The result of the EuroChallenge clash was again not favourable to Tofas, but Caki has reasons to look at the bright side.
While media reports ahead of the Tuesday game insisted that the Turkish club and their star point guard had agreed to go their separate ways, neither side has confirmed this officially.
In any case, Caki had to remould his team's offensive plays based on a more collective model and he got meaningful contributions from starters and bench players alike.
Krasnye Krylia are looking more and more like a well-oiled winning machine, and while they never dominated the encounter, they did more than enough all night long to clinch another win, their ninth consecutive in the EuroChallenge, without too much stress.
Andre Smith in particular really enjoyed the trip to Turkey, as he collected 32 points and five rebounds to lead the Russian charge.
Guard Chester Simmons meanwhile was happy to take less shots than usual but he still contributed 15 points and added five rebounds and three assists.
|Aliaksei Trastsinetski iced the final result from the free throw line, handing Minsk their first win in the Last 16|
They managed to pull away 55-47 at the end of the third quarter but the German side started chipping away at the lead, and when Aliaksandr Kudrautsau missed two free throws with 14 seconds left to the final buzzer and Minsk up 72-70, very unpleasant memories surfaced in the collective mind of the 4,200-strong home crowd.
The hosts had let a lead slip away towards the end of regulation in last week's clash with Okapi Aalstar, then effectively allowed the Belgians to take the game to overtime and eventually lost after a second extra period, 91-87.
Trastinetski sunk both free throws to seal the final 74-70 and gift his team their first win in the Last 16.
Those were the two most important of his eight points in the game, while he also collected seven rebounds.
Shocked disbelief, sudden hope in an epic comeback, then complete disappointment.
Those were the emotions the few faithful fans that made their way to the Forum of Aalst on Tuesday, to cheer on their favourite team despite the recent string of bad results in the Ethias League, must have gone through in quick succession.
To everyone's surprise though, the same team that seemed absent from the encounter during the first 10 minutes, went on a 31-16 run in the second quarter and had almost balanced proceedings by the half-time interval, 47-43.
But whatever hopes the local fans nurtured during the break started evaporating soon, as the German side scored 30 points again in the third quarter, and extended the lead to 11.
Oldenburg did not take their foot off the gas until the end, while Aalstar gradually abandoned all hope and allowed their guests to score at will, until they produced the highest output in the EuroChallenge this year, since the start of the Regular Season.