|Courdon Higgins is currently the second-best scorer in the VTB league with a average of 24.7 points per game|
Triumph Lyubertsy highlighted the problems that a short-handed Krasnye Krylia are facing at the moment by enjoying a comfortable 80-62 win over the Samara side on Thursday, in VTB United league action.
While the hosts coped remarkably well with the absence through injury of center Milovan Rakovic, dominating inside and controlling the boards 39-28, Krasnye Krylia were forced to rely on a short rotation, using guard Anton Ponkrashov at the power forward spot for long stretches of the game.
In addition to the loss of their top-scorer Bracey Wright, who departed for Hapoel Jerusalem earlier this week, the reigning EuroChallenge champions also had to make do without frontcourt duo Artem Zabelin and Julian Wright, who are both struggling with injuries.
The only good news for Samara head coach Sergey Bazarevich came from Moscow airport, where his captain Aaron Miles arrived shortly before the start of the game, after attending the birth of his son in the USA.
The veteran point guard had literally just enough time to change into his Krasnye Krylia uniform after the transatlantic journey, and still stayed on the floor for 36 minutes.
Triumph showed early on their intentions to impose a fast tempo on the clash, but Samara were able to follow suit while their legs were still fresh and stayed close during the first quarter, which finished 20-19.
Russian international Dmitry Kulagin however was inspired against his former team and kept spearheading the relentless Triumph transition game, scoring 13 of his 16 points during the first half.
The hosts started pulling away in the second quarter and led 39-29 at the half-time buzzer, as their second unit came off the bench and made an equally important contribution.
Even when plagued by problems, Krasnye Krylia are a resilient bunch and when the gap ballooned to 48-31 midway through the third period, they employed a half-court pressing that produced some results and slowed down Triumph.
However, even when the hosts were denied the open floor and had to play five against five, Courdon Higgins was always there to resolve the situation by penetrating and finishing at the rim or by means of a mid-range jumper, and Samara never managed to trim the deficit to single-digit levels until the final buzzer.
Higgins finished with a game-high 26 points and added six rebounds and six assists, Jeremy Chappell had 16 points and big man Kyle Landry collected a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds so Kulagin's reduced productivity in the second half was hardly a problem for Triumph.
Ponkrashov and Demetris Nichols each scored 16 points for Samara, the former also adding seven rebounds, Victor Keyru added 13 points while center Anton Pushkov, who had to fight alone in the paint against the Triumph frontcourt until he fouled out in the fourth, finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
|Sergey Bazarevich: "We are experiencing personnel problems, we really do not have enough players"|
"In general, I am satisfied with the game but our lead was cut when our team relaxed and became comfortable with the difference," said Triumph head coach Vasiliy Karasev.
"Of course we will analyse this and work hard so that incidents like that are not repeated."
Meanwhile Karasev's opposite number was understandably preoccupied.
"It was hard to expect something better from today," Bazarevich admitted.
"We are experiencing personnel problems, we really do not have enough players.
"Miles came to the game today literally off the plane and our young guys are not ready to play at this level, although it is encouraging that the team fought hard.
"At the beginning of the third quarter, as in the end, we had the chance to significantly reduce the deficit but we were tired and there was nobody to replace the leaders."
Following this clash, which could prove decisive in the race for a place in the play-offs, Triumph have improved to 6-5 and climbed to third place in VTB league Regular Season Group B, while Samara dropped to 5-6.
For both Russian teams, this was the last game before they embark on their respective EuroChallenge Last 16 campaigns next Tuesday.