|Ojars Silins came up big with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field|
EuroChallenge semi-finalists Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia have taken a significant step towards securing a play-off berth in the Italian Serie A league, after defeating Virtus Roma 89-76 at home on Sunday.
With just four games remaining to the end of the regular season, Reggio Emilia have now improved to 13-13, occupy seventh place in the standings and, most importantly, have opened up a two-game gap from the no less than five teams that are tied in ninth place with an 11-15 record.
Young Latvian forward Ojars Silins delivered one of his best performances so far this season and paced the hosts with 21 points on 8-of-11 from the floor, also adding four rebounds.
Troy Bell also put in an outstanding display for the winners and finished with 19 points and eight rebounds, James White had 15 points and eight boards, while Rimantas Kaukenas, Riccardo Cervi and Andrea Cinciarini scored 10 points each, the latter also dishing out a game-high eight assists.
Reggio Emilia seized the initiative right from tip-off, imposed their up-tempo pace and led Roma 52-36 at the half-time buzzer.
The visitors pushed hard after the interval and managed to reduce the gap to eight points on two occasions during the third frame, but Silins came up both times with big shots to restore a double-digit lead for the hosts.
"It was a very important victory, because apart from the significance of the result it came against a very robust team and after we played a very good game," said Reggio Emilia head coach Massimiliano Menetti.
"We suffered a little bit in the third quarter, especially in terms of rhythm, but it was to be expected that Roma would react after half-time.
"But we succeeded in the final quarter in doing the things that matter, meaning to capitalise on their mistakes and not allow them any extra possessions."
An excellent collective effort from the hosts on the glass helped them not only make up for the absence of the sidelined through injury forward/center Angelo Gigli, but also out-rebound Roma 44 to 30.
Swiss-American center Greg Brunner, who returned last week from a long injury lay-off, got into foul trouble fast and only stayed on the floor for six minutes.
"From one side we can take a deep breath, I am sure the guys who are off to the national team will be managed in the same way that we would have done at the club during this week," Menetti said.
Cinciarini, Cervi and Giovanni Pini are joining the Italian national team training camp on Monday, ahead of Saturday's BEKO All Star Game, which sees the Azzurri take on a team of the best foreign players in the Serie A.
Following the All Star Game, Reggio Emilia will travel to Victoria Libertas Pesaro for a tough game on the road before starting preparations for the EuroChallenge Final Four.
The question is whether, in light of their Sunday win, the Final Four hosts will focus on pursuing Roma (who now stand at 15-11) for sixth place on the Serie A regular season table.
"I don't want to speculate on whether we can reach sixth spot because every time we have thought like this during the season we received strong blows that made us land abruptly," Menetti replied.
"The team has to think that its value at a given moment is the one that is reflected in the standings at that specific moment and focus on one game at the time."
|Domen Lorbek had a game-high 22 points for Gaziantep in defeat|
Reggio Emilia are facing Royal Hali Gaziantep in the EuroChallenge semi-finals on 25 April.
Gaziantep lost 78-76 at home to powerhouse Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkish BEKO TBL action at the weekend, in a dramatic clash that went down to the final play.
The hosts were leading 76-75 with just 11 seconds remaining but Croatian international Luka Zoric gave the lead to the visiting Istanbul side from the foul line, before Gaziantep turned the ball over on the last possession.
Slovenian international Domen Lorbek finished with a game-high 22 points for Gaziantep while Mutlu Akpinar had 13 points and Baris Ermis collected a double-double of 10 points and 10 assists in defeat.
Meanwhile another EuroChallenge semi-finalist, Szolnoki Olaj, picked up their fourth win in as many Hungarian league games this season at the weekend.
The Hungarian side are taking on the Russians of Triumph Lyubertsy in the other EuroChallenge semi-final clash.
The EuroChallenge Final Four takes place in Bologna from 25 to 27 April.