|Victory for Soner Sentürk and his Pinar Karsiyaka teammates on Tuesday night assures their ticket to the next round of the EuroChallenge|
The penultimate day of EuroChallenge Last 16 action brought smiles to Pinar Karsiyaka, BCM Gravelines Dunkerque and Telekom Baskets Bonn, who punched their ticket to the quarter-final play-offs.
Krasnye Krylia from Group K and EWE Baskets Oldenburg from Group L already reserved their tickets in Week 4 action, meaning there are still three spots up for grabs and their holders will be determined on the final day of action next week.
The cities of Izmir and Ventspils lie far away from each other, but their basketball teams share a fundamental character trait.
Neither Pinar Karsiyaka nor BK Ventspils, who met in Turkey in the Week 5 Game of the Week on Tuesday night, are star-laden outfits assembled to walk the red carpet.
They are both cohesive groups of blue-collar men who are constantly mobile and play such a hard-nosed and aggressive defence they can make any opponent go dizzy while just trying to pass the ball around, and leave them with the feeling they just got hit by a truck.
The only problem with this approach is that every one of their five players needs to maintain 100% intensity for every single second he spends on the floor, and for most of the first half of their Tuesday encounter, only Karsiyaka achieved this.
The Turkish side did so well in fact that they took a 52-34 lead at the interval, but their guests remembered they can also play this way when the two gladiators returned from the locker rooms.
Ventspils stepped it up and forced the hosts to take bad shots or commit turnovers, to reduce the gap to just three points at the start of the fourth frame on two Folarin Campbell free throws.
But Karsiyaka had one more card up their sleeve and reserved it for the clutch. They passed the ball inside on every critical position, making the most of their advantage in size and physicality in the paint and center William Thomas scored 10 of his crucial points from that point onwards.
The hosts clinched an 84-75 win to secure first place in the group and, most importantly, a ticket to the quarter-finals, with Thomas also collecting 11 boards to finish with a double-double in points and rebounds, while his frontcourt partner Abdul Aminu led all scorers with 16 points alongside seven rebounds.
In the other game of the group, Gaz Metan Medias were left staring in disbelief on the scoreboard that showed they had just been beaten, 79-75, at Joensuun Kataja.
The Finnish side were trailing by 13 points at the start of the final frame, but their fans never stopped believing in the comeback and spurred them on to a 30-13 run that turned the tables.
Jermaine Flowers led the charge for Kataja with 16 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Ventspils will follow Karisyaka into the play-offs if they defeat Medias next week in Romania while Kataja will hope the Latvians lose and at the same time they beat Karsiyaka. Medias from their side need the win over Ventspils and a Kataja loss to Karsiyaka to go through.
|Miklós Szabó had a solid performance under the boards Szolnoki Olaj, picking up 12 rebounds to keep his team's hopes of progression alive|
BCM Gravelines Dunkerque arrived in Levallois on Tuesday night, fresh off their triumph in the French Leaders Cup on Sunday with two pieces of important info in their minds.
First, that they could punch their ticket to the EuroChallenge quarter-finals if they pulled off a third win this season over their French rivals.
The second, that their opponents' top-two scorers, Sean May and Jawad Williams, had both picked up a knock in Saturday's French Leaders Cup semi-final and were doubtful for the game.
Both players had suited up, but when it became clear that neither would be in Paris's starting line-up and BCM started off on a 15-2 run, the visitors must have thought that clinching victory and, by extension, their passage to the play-offs, would be a walk in the park.
None of the two Americans stepped on the court on Tuesday at any point in the encounter, but BCM had anything but a free ride.
Led by the orchestra conductor Andrew Albicy, who dished out a season-high 12 assists, a host of Paris second fiddles stepped up on offence to compensate for the absence of their two team-mates.
The hosts came back in the second quarter and the reminder of the game turned into a nerve-wrecking affair with the lead changing hands on every other possession, in perhaps the most suspense-packed clash in the EuroChallenge this season.
Paris leveled the scores at 76; 42 seconds from the end of regulation, and Dwight Buycks missed a three-point shot that could have won it for the visitors, forcing the game to go into overtime.
The two opponents exchanged blows in the extra period until John Cox dunked with authority to give the hosts an 86-85 lead with 26 seconds on the clock.
Just like at the end of regulation, Buycks missed a potentially game-winning shot with just over a second left but this time around, Deus ex Machina, also known as Yannick Bokolo, grabbed the offensive rebound and scored, to gift BCM the win at the death.
Bokolo capped off an outstanding display with that basket, as he had 11 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and two steals, while Kennedy Winston led all scorers with 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the field.
BCM improved to 4-1 and will also clinch top spot in the group if they beat Hapoel Unet Holon on the final day, while Paris will face off with Szolnoki Olaj, both at 3-2, in a do-or-die clash for the other ticket from the group.
The Hungarians defeated the already eliminated Holon side 81-66, despite a massive performance by Last 16 Week 5 MVP Franklin Hassell, who had 24 points and six rebounds in a losing effort.
James Florence led all Szolnoki scorers with 20 points whilst center Miklós Szabó had 12 rebounds to go with his nine points.
|Tofas SC forward Tomislav Ruzic had 19 points in his side's Group K clash|
Tofas Bursa were playing with their backs to the wall on Tuesday and while nerves were obvious throughout the entire encounter, they managed to hold on to defeat Norrköping Dolphins 76-70 at home and stay in contention for a spot in the play-offs.
The hosts led for most of the clash and even took an 11-point lead early in the second quarter, but that was the biggest distance they would put between themselves and their guests all night, as things stayed too close for comfort the rest of the way.
Second-chance points was what ultimately tipped the balance in the Turkish side's favour, as they grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and compensated for the slightly better shooting percentages of their Swedish guests.
One Tofas player who shot well from both two-point and three-point range was Tomislav Ruzic, who finished with 19 points, four rebounds and two assists.
The Croatian forward had plenty of support from center Chinemelu Elonu who collected a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double, while Swedish international Christian Maraker led all scorers with 22 points in defeat.
Taking into consideration the result in Turkey, Khimik Yuzhne were in a position to follow Krasnye Krylia into the quarter-finals if they managed to pull off a feat no team has accomplished this season, by handing the Russian side their first defeat in the EuroChallenge.
Completely focused on the task at hand, the Ukrainian team started strong and took an early 18-14 lead over their hosts in Samara and even managed to stay ahead until the interval, 36-35.
But once Krasnye Krylia decided it was time to step on the gas in the third quarter, few teams, if any at this moment in the season, would be able to keep up with them.
The Russians outscored their guests 24-10 in that period and a Khimik attempt at a comeback in the final frame was not enough to reverse the situation, as the group leaders added an 11th consecutive victory in the EuroChallenge, 76-68.
Tuesday was one of the best days Telekom Baskets Bonn have had in their EuroChallenge campaign and one of the best in their season so far in general, as they achieved a triple goal with one master stroke.
The German team took out a thorn the club had in its side since last season, when they missed out on the EuroChallenge play-offs despite finishing with the same record in their Last 16 group as Elan Chalon and Szolnoki Olaj, who eventually reached the Final Four.
They did this by securing their presence in the quarter-finals of this year's edition with one week to spare and, to put the cherry on top, they took sweet revenge on domestic rivals EWE Baskets Oldenburg by bringing their 10-game unbeaten streak to an end.
|Jamel McLean was instrumental in Telekom Baskets' Group L win, scoring 28 points|
Bonn showed great determination and prevailed 92-88 on the road, in a clash that was not for the faint-hearted.
The lead changed hands no less than 12 times during the 40 minutes and Oldenburg kept fighting to preserve their perfect record until the final buzzer, but ultimately Bonn were too hard to die on the night.
They owe a lot to an ice-cool display by Jamel McLean, who delivered his best performance since joining the team during the winter break.
The forward went 8-for-9 from the field and led all scorers with 28 points, whilst five more of his team-mates scored in double digits, in an admirable collective effort.
Oldenburg had already secured their passage and the loss only hurt on a psychological level, but no doubt it will make them feel a decision they took just before the game and announced on Wednesday is more justified than ever.
The group leaders decided to bring back to the team combo guard Sean (Mustafa) Abdul-Hamid, who had a short spell with them in the autumn, as coverage for the injured-at-the-time Christopher Kramer.
"Mustafa helped us a lot previously, he showed he works hard and understands the basic structure of our game," Oldenburg coach Sebastian Machowski said.
"This will make it easier for him now to integrate quickly.
"Of course, we hope that we will be free of injuries from now on, but there is still a long way left in the season and it's better to have more options."
In the other game of the group on Tuesday, Okapi Aalstar needed to win in order to take advantage of a possible defeat of Bonn, and at least kept their part of the scenario to perfection.
With point guard Derek Raivio returning to the line-up and scoring 20 points, the Belgians enjoyed an 100-76 rout of Tsmoki Minsk.
Following this result, Okapi will take third place in the group and Minsk will finish last, regardless of what happens on the final day.