BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Belgian international Maxime De Zeeuw had another prosperous weekend with 12 points, including an important free throw late in the piece|
The EuroChallenge Regular Season does not tip off until Tuesday 5 November, but the clubs that were drawn in Group A showed at the weekend that they are already in top form.
SPM Shoeters Den Bosch and Port of Antwerp Giants are solitary leaders of their respective domestic leagues, while both JDA Dijon and Rakvere Tarvas have further approached the top of the table in their national championships, as all four teams registered big wins over the weekend.
Antwerp Giants were the only ones in this company to prevail by a single-digit margin but they clinched arguably the most important victory after emerging triumphant from a nail-biting direct clash for top spot on the Belgian Ethias League table.
The Giants travelled to fellow EuroChallenge side Okapi Aalstar (Okapi are in Group E) on Sunday, with the two opponents tied at 3-1 in the standings, and overturned an 11-point deficit within three minutes in the final frame to ride out 80-78 winners.
Okapi seized initiative early on, leading 34-31 at the half-time buzzer and by as many as eight points for most of the third quarter.
When Thomas Dreesen drilled a three-pointer early in the fourth to give the hosts a 63-52 cushion, Okapi's biggest lead in the game, the contest seemed to be done and dusted.
However, Giants shooting guard Barry Stewart thought otherwise and sunk three triples in quick succession in a 14-2 burst of his team that levelled proceedings with just over six minutes left on the clock.
The two rivals went neck-and-neck in the clutch until Maxime De Zeeuw split two free throws to put Antwerp ahead 80-77 with just seconds remaining to play.
Derek Raivio drew a foul on the last possession, made the first free throw and missed the second for Ian Hanavan to grab the offensive rebound, but the winger's shot under pressure missed the target and Okapi did not manage to force overtime.
Stewart paved the way for Antwerp with 21 points, four rebounds and four assists, Roel Moors had 16 points and five rebounds while Frank Turner and De Zeeuw chipped in with 12 points apiece, the latter also adding a game-high nine rebounds.
For Okapi, Raivio led all scorers with 25 points and DaSean Butler finished with 19 points and seven rebounds in losing efforts.
Just like Antwerp in Belgium, Den Bosch are also enjoying the solitude at the top in the Netherlands, although they did not have to work so hard at the weekend to maintain their position.
Den Bosch picked up a 90-73 win over Leeuwarden at home and bounced back in ideal fashion from their midweek loss at Zwolle, their first this year in the Dutch Basketball League.
Once again, the American duo of Tai Wesley and David Gonzalvez delivered excellent displays for Den Bosch as they scored 24 and 18 points, respectively.
|Ralf De Pagter had nine points and seven rebounds for the Shoeters |
Young Dutch international Ralf De Pagter meanwhile had nine points to go with his team-high seven rebounds.
Dijon enjoyed a similarly comfortable success in front of their home fans on Saturday night in Day Four action in the French Pro A.
The hosts forced Le Mans into shooting 34.5% from the floor (1-of-18 from three-point range) and were in control throughout the game to clinch a 63-47 win.
Andre Harris went 9-for-16 from the floor and led all scorers with 21 points, while Mykal Riley and Anthony Dobbins also scored in double digits for Dijon, finishing with 12 and 11 points respectively.
This was the last game in which Dijon were short-handed in the frontcourt as veteran center Darren Fenn is to join the team this week, stepping in for the side-lined through injury Zacherie Moss.
Tarvas meanwhile had the most relaxing weekend among the EuroChallenge Group A gladiators, as they cruised to a 97-54 rout of Pärnu at home in the Estonian Alexela KML League.
The hosts led from start to finish and outscored Pärnu 25-10 in the second frame to establish an unassailable 23-point lead, 44-21, already at the half-time buzzer.
Six players scored in double digits for Tarvas, as Maris Laksa and Gregory Jenkins paced their teammates with 15 points and seven rebounds each.
"We didn't expect it to be like this before the game, as Pärnu are a good team with good players," Tarvas head coach Andres Sober commented.
"But our guys played an excellent game, they were very good on defence and hit their open shots."
On the opening day in Group A of the EuroChallenge, Tarvas travel to the Netherlands to take on Den Bosch while Dijon play host to Antwerp in France.