BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Robert Dixon was once more the top scorer for Pinar Karsiyaka, finishing with 19 points|
Despite exiting the Turkish BEKO Ligi play-offs in the semi-finals, EuroChallenge runners-up Pinar Karsiyaka concluded on Thursday night their most successful season in 26 years.
Karsiyaka ended their campaign with the same fighting spirit they had shown all season-long, as they fell 79-77 at home in Game 3 of their semi-final series against Galatasaray Medical Park, who return to the league finals after a one-year absence.
For the Izmir side, a top-four finish in the BEKO Ligi post-season combined with their excellent run to the title game of the EuroChallenge, which they lost 77-76 to Krasnye Krylia after a heart-breaking finale, constitutes their best season since 1987, when they had conquered their only domestic league title.
Ufuk Sarica's team had finished in fifth place in the Regular Season but eliminated Euroleague side Fenerbahce Ulker in the quarter-finals with two straight wins, a result that was already a considerable success in its own right.
On Thursday, the hosts started strong and took a 26-18 lead at the first buzzer, but Ergin Ataman's team outscored them 22-8 in the second quarter to take control of the encounter and hold a six-point advantage at the interval.
Karsiyaka regained the lead in the third, 51-50, on a Can Maxim Mutaf basket but could not find a way to limit Gala center Boniface Ndong in the low post, who almost single-handedly re-installed the guests in the driving seat, 60-56 at the end of the third period.
The two opponents entered the final minute of the encounter with the scores even until point guard Carlos Arroyo hit two free-throws to make it 79-77 for Gala with five seconds left on the clock.
On the last possession, Karsiyaka chose to try to clinch the win rather than force overtime but Soner Senturk's three-point attempt did not drop in and the guests celebrated victory and their passage to the title series.
Robert Dixon had 19 points in defeat for the hosts, who were playing without their captain Umit Sonkol who fractured his ankle during Game 2.
Ndong was immense for the winners, collecting a near double-double of 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting and nine rebounds, while Ersin Dagli added 15 points and four assists and Turkish international Ender Arslan had 13 points.
Galatasaray will face in the finals the winner of the semi-final series between Anadolu Efes and Banvit, which is currently tied at 1-1.