|Triumph were led by Courdon Higgins' 22 points|
Triumph Lyubertsy let slip an 11-point fourth-quarter lead on Sunday but managed to survive Astana's final assault and eke out an 82-81 win at home, in the first game in 2014 for both teams.
The Russian hosts only secured victory after the visiting Kazakhstan side misfired on two consecutive shots in the final minute and then Jeremy Chappell came up with a monster block with six seconds left on the clock, rejecting what would have probably been a game-winning shot by Astana's Jerry Johnson.
Few would have predicted such a close finish to the encounter during the third quarter, when Triumph rode the hot hand of Courdon Higgins to extend their advantage to 13 points, after leading 49-40 at half-time.
The hosts entered the fourth frame up 70-59, but Astana soon started to chip away at the gap and reduced to 81-79 with 1:12 still remaining to the final buzzer.
After Higgins split two free throws to give Triumph an 82-79 cushion, Astana cut the deficit to just one point with 58 seconds left and regained possession immediately as Triumph's Kyle Landry turned the ball over.
The Kazakhstan outfit missed a first go-ahead shot attempt, grabbed the offensive rebound but misfired again, and just when Johnson looked set to win it for his team, Chappell's crucial intervention sealed the result.
Triumph head coach Vasiliy Karasev was not alarmed by his team's minor collapse in the fourth quarter and placed emphasis on the positive.
"This was the first game after the Christmas holidays," Karasev said.
"Usually teams don't play very well in these games, but we demonstrated a decent game for three quarters and gave a lot of effort and energy on the court.
"Our leaders got tired at the end, [Courdon] Higgins, [Dmitry] Kulagin, [Jeremy] Chappell and Kyle Landry couldn't get going and Astana was able to catch up."
In addition to the vital last-gasp block, Chappell also contributed 10 points and five rebounds while Higgins finished with a team-high 22 points, also adding seven rebounds and six assists, and Dmitry Kulagin had 16 points and four assists.
Following this win in VTB United league Day 10 action, Triumph, which are pitted in the EuroChallenge Last 16 Group K, have improved to 5-5 in the Regular Season standings and maintain intact their options for a spot in the play-offs.
SAMARA SUCCUMB TO POWERHOUSE KHIMKI
On the contrary, reigning EuroChallenge champions Krasnye Krylia Samara were never in contention during their first game in the VTB league in the new year and lost 91-58 to Khimki at home.
Krasnye Krylia trailed already by 14 points at the end of the first quarter and struggled offensively throughout the game as their two top scorers, Demetris Nichols, who had 15 points and Anton Ponkrashov, who finished with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists, both shot only 29% from two-point range.
Bracey Wright finished with four points, three rebounds and three assists in what could be his last game at Samara, as Krasnye Krylia have confirmed that they are holding negotiations with Hapoel Jerusalem for the transfer of the American guard to the Israeli side.
|Ernest Bremer had 13 points and five assists to lead Gaziantep to victory|
GAZIANTEP AND KOTKA ON RIGHT FOOT
In addition to Triumph, two more EuroChallenge Last 16 clubs were victorious at the weekend to kick off 2014 on the right foot.
Royal Hali Gaziantep defeated Trabzonspor Medical Park 60-56 on the road, to register their third win of the season in the Turkish BEKO TBL.
Guards Ernest Bremer and Can Ogut paved the way for Jure Zdovc's team with 13 points apiece, the former also dishing out five assists, and Dejan Borovnjak chipped in with 10 points and a team-high six rebounds.
Team TEHO Sport Kotka meanwhile outscored Salon Vilpas 94-81 in Finnish Korisliiga action, behind 18 points from Timo Heinonen and double-double showings by two of their players, as Samuli Vanttaja collected 16 points and 12 rebounds and Chris Owens finished with 16 points and 10 boards.
The new year however did not start on a high note for several clubs that compete in the EuroChallenge Last 16.
Port of Antwerp Giants slumped to an 85-72 loss to Okapi Aalstar at home on Sunday in the Belgian Ethias league, despite a 17-point, seven-rebound effort by Marko Spica and 14 points from Frank Turner.
In the Italian Serie A, Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia lost 73-65 away at Acqua Vitasnella Cantù and dropped to 7-7 in the standings.
Both EuroChallenge sides that compete in the ABA Adriatic League also lost at the weekend.
Krka Novo Mesto fell 65-64 to Cedevita Zagreb at home, following a dramatic encounter.
Edo Muric was the only player on the Slovenian side to score in double digits and finished with 12 points.