Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia were expecting a very different ending to the season that brought them the historical conquest of the EuroChallenge trophy, than the dramatic finale that unravelled this week.
The EuroChallenge champions fell 84-79 at Montepaschi Siena on Wednesday night in the deciding Game 5 of their Italian Serie A play-off series and exited the post-season race, despite the fact they had led the series 2-1 and hosted the fourth game at home.
A very composed Reggio side gained an early 19-18 lead but Tomas Ress sunk three consecutive three-pointers at the start of the second quarter to spark an 11-0 Siena run, which enabled the hosts to hold a 40-33 cushion at the half-time break.
|Andrea Cinciarini once again played a big role for Reggio Emilia|
Siena increased the gap to 14 points midway through the third frame but Andrea Cinciarini instigated a Reggio comeback with his inspirational play and hit back-to-back triples to reduce to 73-71, with four minutes left to play.
Again Ress however, this time with a fantastic dunk, gave Siena some breathing space, 78-75, and Marquez Haynes made three of his four free-throws in the final minute to seal the home team's triumph.
Reggio Emilia had entered the quarter-finals as the underdogs, but came so close to upsetting the reigning Italian champions that they cannot help but feel the ticket to the semi-finals slipped right through their fingers.
"We believed in it, because we were coming off a fantastic season in which we won the EuroChallenge and we played in the semi-finals of Coppa Italia," Reggio Emilia head coach Massimiliano Menneti said.
"Congratulations to Siena, they were better today [on Wednesday] and shot with unbelievable percentages from the floor," Menetti, for whom Game 5 of the series was his 100th in the Italian top flight, added.
"At the start of the series we approached them with the utmost respect, keeping in mind that their seven league titles rather than their recent struggles off the court.
"But the series, ultimately, was marked by Game 4.
"We tried to get over it and come here to win, but in the end it couldn't happen."
In the controversial fourth clash in Reggio, the EuroChallenge champions bounced back from an early 12-point deficit to gain a 52-49 lead at the interval and then increased the gap to 10 points midway through the third frame.
Reggio looked destined for glory until Ojars Silins fouled Erik Green on a three-point shot attempt, was subsequently called for a technical foul and Siena ended up taking seven consecutive free throws, changed the course of the encounter and won 85-81 on the road.
"Another season ends here with an incredible disappointment for us, but on sporting level I have to congratulate Siena, each one of their players, [Siena] coach Crespi and their fans - this battle, unfortunately, belongs to you," Andrea Cinciarini commented after Game 5.
"But I can also say that I am tremendously proud of every single team-mate of mine and of our fantastic fans who have always stood by our side."
Coach Menetti from his side, made an effort to remind everyone of the many positives his team got out of this year's campaign.
"At the end of last year, we were so happy with what we had achieved that we kept thinking it would be hard to repeat the same showing a second consecutive year," he said.
"Yet not only we made the play-offs and the cup semi-finals but we lifted the EuroChallenge, which is a historical success for this club.
"So on the bright side, maybe we can now finally celebrate that title properly, which we couldn't have done before because of the back-to-back games that awaited us after the final in Bologna.
"The only special thing we had time for in Bologna, was to sit down all together and have a pizza."