|14 January 2013|
There is no place like home or, when it comes to a basketball game, one's home gym.
The ball is never more or less inflated than you are accustomed to, your legs are used to every bump or crack on the hardwood floor, the rims are neither too hard nor too soft and, for some strange reason, although the basket is always at 3.05m from the ground anywhere in the world, it only feels it's at the ideal height in the gym you practice shooting all season.
In Szolnoki Olaj's case, home is not particularly spacious - Kész Aréna can hold a 2,000-strong crowd - but it feels very cosy, with the rowdy fans close to the court always participating and animating the host team's players.
On Tuesday night though, on the premiere of the Last 16, the Hungarian side will need much more than familiarity with the court and plenty of friendly faces in the crowd to hand BCM Gravelines Dunkerque a third loss in their EuroChallenge campaign.
Part of it has to do with the fact that BCM enjoyed a relaxing two-week break in France and when they returned to action in the French Pro A last Friday, they overcame a lethargic start to demolish reigning domestic champions Elan Chalon with a monumental second half performance.
BCM outscored Chalon 73-31 in the final two quarters to tie the all-time league record for the biggest point differential during one half and, more importantly, claim an 102-69 triumph that keeps them at the top of the Pro A standings.
Dwight Buycks clearly managed to resists the various French Christmas delicacies as he led all scorers with 22 points and added seven assists.
Szolnoki on the other hand travelled to Podgorica to take on Buducnost VOLI in the Adriatic ABA League and found themselves trailing the Montenegrin team right from the start.
The Hungarian side never really mounted a convincing challenge and succumbed to an 88-63 defeat that leaves them in last place in the standings.
Winger Sead Sehovic, playing in his home country, finished with 19 points and Latvian Ernests Kalve added 14 in defeat.
Big man Marton Bader though, who is a key player on the team, only contributed four points in 18 minutes on the floor.
|Dwight Buycks is BCM Gravelines' leading scorer, both in the EuroChallenge and the French Pro A|
SEASON SO FAR
Szolnoki took a drastic step at the beginning of December, when they parted ways with long-time head coach Peter Por to hand the reins of the team to Nedeljko Asceric.
Whether it was the effect of this move or not, the Hungarians won their first three games after the change.
They prevailed in their last Regular Season game against BC Timisoara to take second place in Group F and advance to the Last 16, while they also put together a string of two victories for the first time in the Adriatic League.
They first claimed a famous 70-68 win over Partizan and then registered a second home success, against KRKA Novo Mesto, 72-69.
Szolnoki however did not manage to replicate these excellent defensive performances in their next games and slumped to three defeats in a row.
Kalve has been the most consistent performer for the team in the EuroChallenge with 17 points per game while Bader, who leads the team in rebounds in Europe, takes over the role of the main offensive option in the Adriatic League, with 13.2 points per contest.
While it's true that BCM topped Group G of the Regular Season, one cannot help the feeling they did just enough to advance, as they suffered two defeats and finished with a 4-2 record, the same as second-placed Tsmoki-Minsk.
They have gone from strength to strength in the Pro A though, where they have won five of their last six games and look every bit a serious title contender.
They had six players averaging eight points or more in the EuroChallenge Regular Season, with Buycks leading the team in scoring with 14.8 points per contest.
The American guard is the third-best player in two-point field percentage in the EuroChallenge (69.8%) and although he is taking more shots and has a lower percentage in Pro A (51%) he has stayed very sharp and has kept delivering excellent performances during the break of the European competition.