EuroChallenge Last 16 Week 6 Review

7. Sani Becirovic (KRKA Novo Mesto)
Sani Becirovic was sorely missed by Krka Novo Mesto on Tuesday night

Krasnye Krylia, Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia and Szolnoki Olaj emerged victorious on the final day of action in the EuroChallenge Last 16 and snapped up the last three tickets to the quarter-final play-offs.

In Samara, the Russian team made easy work of their deciding clash with Port of Antwerp Giants in Group I and picked up an 87-67 win.

In Group J, Reggio Emilia edged out Krka Novo Mesto 69-66 in an overtime thriller in Slovenia while Szolnoki secured a berth thanks to a 74-67 win over Cholet at home.

While Antwerp can take some consolation from the fact they exited the competition after losing to the reigning EuroChallenge champions on the road, Krka and, surprisingly, Tsmoki Minsk, are the two big victims of misfortune in Week 6 in the Last 16.

Krka were forced to go into Tuesday's do-or-die clash without their most experienced player, former Slovenian international Sani Becirovic.

In a low-scoring, tight game where the nerves of the occasion weighed heavily and both sets of players resembled talented actors who inexplicably fluffed their lines on the night of the big premiere, Becirovic's safe pair of hands and refinement were sorely missed by the host team.

Minsk meanwhile enjoyed an 89-51 rout of the Bakken Bears in Group L but saw one half of their dynamic frontcourt duo, forward/center Vincent Hunter, pick up a serious injury in a game of no real consequence.

The initial diagnosis has revealed that although Hunter has avoided a fracture and will not need to undergo surgery, he is still highly unlikely to return to action in time for the play-offs as he will most probably stay on the sidelines for a period of six weeks.

We take a look at the most noteworthy events and figures of the final day of action in the EuroChallenge Last 16.

Keep An Eye On:

7. Vladislav Solopa (Moldova)
Moldovan Vladislav Solopa continues to develop nicely for Medias

The encounter between Gaz Metan Medias and Tartu Univerity Rock had no bearing on the Group I standings and, to their credit, both coaches perceived it as an opportunity to reward young players with more time on the court. Two U20 Estonian internationals, Kristen Meister and Kent Vene of Tartu, played more minutes on Tuesday than they had accumulated in the entire season and finished with six and four points respectively, their highest contribution in the EuroChallenge so far. The 18-year-old Medias forward Vladislav Solopa meanwhile started the game and put in another promising display, as he finished with seven points and five rebounds.

Blast From The Past:
Royal Hali Gaziantep were not really in need of winning their final Last 16 game, at home against JDA Dijon on Tuesday, as they had already secured first place in Group K and a quarter-final berth. Yet bouncing back from their first loss in two months, in BEKO TBL action at the weekend, and completing the EuroChallenge Last 16 as the only unbeaten team carries a psychological benefit for the team which cannot be underestimated. A veteran like Mutlu Akpinar knows this better than most and on a day that Baris Ermis and Domen Lorbek got a much-deserved rest, the Turkish small forward emerged as the leader of his team and led them to a 69-60 win over Dijon. The 31-year-old winger finished with a season-high 21 points on four-of-six three-point shooting (8-of-10) from the floor and added two assists for good measure. Akpinar perhaps did not develop into the player many expected of him when he was showing early potential as an U20 Turkish international, but he maintained his soft touch and once he gets the hot hand he becomes the reliable long-range shooter every team wants on their roster. He has taken 49 triples in this EuroChallenge season, twice as many as his two-point attempts, converting 22 of them (44.9%) which makes him the third-best three-point shooter among the players whose teams have qualified to the play-offs.

Stat Of The Week:

4. James White (Reggio Emilia)
James White's accuracy made up for the wayward shooting of his teammates'

Eight of the nine Reggio Emilia players who put up a shot on Tuesday combined for 11/49 (22.4%) from the floor. It is a stat line that, under normal circumstances, would be damning for the chances of any team to win on the road, let alone in a do-or-die clash such as the Group J drama between Krka Novo Mesto and the Italian side. Reggio Emilia however managed to escape with a 69-66 win in overtime and qualify to the play-offs, largely because of the fact that their ninth player was James White, and he went 9-of-15 from the floor, including the crucial triple six seconds from the end of regulation, for a game-high 28 points. There were however two more crucial reasons in Reggio Emilia's win. Firstly, the game was a scruffy, grinding affair and Krka were not immune to inexplicably missing open shots, as they went 20-of-55 from the floor. Secondly, in a game where one could cut the nervous tension on the court with a knife, the Slovenians committed 20 turnovers, more than ever before this season, and Reggio Emilia scored 22 points off of them. Six of those points came in the clutch and after Krka had built a seemingly safe eight-point lead, as Ojars Silins, White and Rimantas Kaukenas intercepted poor horizontal passes by Krka just outside the three-point arc and got free lay-ups on the other end.

Hitting The Headlines:
'Never underestimate the heart of a champion,' the basketball cliché goes, and it seems to apply even to players who joined title-winning sides long after their coronation. Krasnye Krylia captain Aaron Miles, who's been there and done that, got plenty of support from new arrivals Michal Ignerski and Filip Videnov in the second quarter and the Russian team outscored Port of Antwerp Giants 27-13 in that period to overcome a slow start. Antwerp reduced the gap to just one point late into the third but then the most recent arrival in Samara, winger Larry O'Bannon, drilled back-to-back three-pointers to instigate the hosts' final burst that would see them resolve a clash of such importance with an 87-67 triumph. "We have advanced to the play-offs and now we will do everything possible to reach the Final Four," Krasnye Krylia head coach Sergey Bazarevich said afterwards, and there is no one out there who can possibly doubt the determination of the reigning EuroChallenge champions, even in a woeful season like this one.

Quote Of The Week:
"We were very close, but unfortunately I missed the final free throw. We were well-prepared for Reggio Emilia but White was the key man in the game. We couldn't stop him and that was mostly my fault. I should have done a better job on defence. I'm the captain and I must take the responsibility for this loss," said Krka small forward Edo Muric after his team's defeat to Reggio Emilia.


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