|Michal Ignerski prodcued a clutch display for Krasnye Krylia against VEF Riga in VTB action on the weekend|
Four of the five teams that are vying for the last spots in the EuroChallenge quarter-final play-offs will go into their respective Tuesday battles on the back of victories in domestic or regional league action at the weekend.
Krasnye Krylia are facing Port of Antwerp Giants in Samara on Tuesday, in the clash that will determine which of the two teams will secure second spot in Last 16 Group A and advance to the EuroChallenge quarter-finals.
The Samara side were playing host to VEF Riga on Saturday in VTB United League action and clinched a hard-earned 91-81 win which lifts them past the Latvians into fourth place in Regular Season Group B.
Krasnye Krylia managed during the third quarter to gain some valuable breathing space in an encounter that was too close for comfort all night, by turning a 43-42 half-time deficit into a 66-61 lead.
Riga clawed their way back and reclaimed the lead, 76-75 with 3:58 remaining to the final buzzer, but Aaron Miles with Larry O'Bannon kept their calm at the free-throw line and Polish international Michal Ignerski drilled a three-pointer to bring the hosts up, 82-76 with just 1:34 left and effectively secure the win for Samara.
Ignerski put in another excellent display since joining Krasnye Krylia and paved the way with a game-high 22 points, also adding six rebounds.
O'Bannon and Miles finished with 18 points apiece, the latter also dishing out a game-high nine assists.
"I think that this was our best game with this roster," said Krasnye Krylia head coach Sergey Bazarevich afterwards, in reference to the fact his team were playing their first game in the VTB league following the departure of star guard Anton Ponkrashov.
"I'm satisfied that we finally defeated VEF for the first time. I even had a dream last night, of a play to prevent the other team from getting to the basket.
"The Russian players especially struggle with that. After half-time we began to control the glass and got some fast breaks. I think that was the key factor in our success today."
|Roel Moors provided an important injection to assure PO Antwerp Giants avoided defeat|
Meanwhile, over in the Belgian Ethias League, Port of Antwerp Giants started their home game against Kangoeroes Basket Willebroek, a side that is second-from-bottom in the standings, perhaps overly relaxed and found themselves trailing 42-33 at the half-time buzzer.
The guests maintained the eight-point cushion almost intact until late in the third quarter, when Antwerp head coach Paul Vervaeck called a time-out.
Once play resumed, winger Benjamin Simons drilled three triples in quick succession to collect within seconds nine of his 11 points on the night and instigate an 11-2 burst which enabled the Giants to push ahead, 61-60 with less than a minute remaining in the third.
The hosts abolished the lead momentarily early in the fourth frame but guard Roel Moors poured in 11 of his team-high 19 points in the final 10 minutes to make sure the Giants would avoid falling victims of an upset.
Antwerp won 88-82 and, as in addition to Moors's showing, Ryan Pearson contributed a double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds, Barry Stewart chipped in with 14 points, six boards, two assists and Marco Spica finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Two Out Of Three Group J Gladiators Win
|Justin Holiday and Szolnoki Olaj claimed a morale-boosting win over the weekend in the ABA League|
Group J is the major battlefield of the EuroChallenge Last 16, as three teams will face-off the final day of action in this stage for the top two-spots in the group and a ticket to the quarter-finals.
The Hungarians stand no chance of making the ABA Adriatic League play-offs but that did not prevent them from putting in a solid second-half display on Saturday night to defeat Igokea Aleksandrovac 79-72.
Szolnoki struggled offensively in the second quarter and trailed Igokea 35-32 at half-time, but all that changed after the break as Hungarian guard David Vojvoda found the hot hand and resolved all scoring woes by hitting five-of-seven from three-point range and finishing with a game-high 28 points.
Reggio Emilia came up trumps in one of their toughest missions this season in the Italian Serie A, as they defeated joint hosts ENEL Brindisi 76-68, knocking them off the top the table and maintaining eighth place in the standings for themselves in the process.
The return of Andrea Cinciarini to action following a two-week lay-off due to injury provided the hosts with the boost they needed to pull off this feat, as the Italian international finished with 18 points and nine assists, registering an efficiency index rating of 32.
"This was one of those games that makes us grow in terms of character," commented Reggio Emilia head coach Massimiliano Menetti.
"We are satisfied to have beaten the leaders, but now we are already thinking ahead to our next task on Tuesday in Novo Mesto [against Krka], where we are playing one of the most important games in the history of this club.
"We have a few hours to charge up our batteries and then we we should be ready for this new battle."
In order to face this same battle, Krka will have to recover swiftly from a demoralising 92-78 loss at Cibona Zagreb in the ABA League at the weekend.
Krka started poorly and as they trailed their Croatian hosts 51-33 already by the half-time buzzer they were left with a mountain to climb the rest of the way.
"Krka is a worker team, and if we do not play hard and tough it is difficult for us to play at all," said Krka head coach Aleksandar Dzikic afterwards.
"Today we were not smart enough and did not put up much of a fight, and maybe this is a warning for us for the game against Reggio Emilia, which is the important game in the EuroChallege."