|21 April 2014|
BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Finnish international Mikko Koivisto led the charge for Gaziantep |
Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia, Royal Hali Gaziantep and Szolnoki Olaj will arrive at the EuroChallenge Final Four on the back of crucial, morale-boosting wins in their respective domestic championships at the weekend.
Gaziantep in particular will land in Bologna for the big event having claimed what can probably be defined as the most triumphant victory of their season so far.
Playing at home, Jure Zdovc's side outlasted fifth-placed Pinar Karsiyaka 95-92 in an epic triple overtime thriller and maintained alive their hopes for a play-off berth in the Turkish BEKO TBL.
The two teams traded blows in a fierce battle that was too close to call right from tip-off and reached the half-time mark tied at 39.
In a game where the lead changed hands almost on every other possession, the scores were still tied at 73 at the end of regulation.
Both opponents struggled offensively in the first two extra periods but Gaziantep had reserved some energy and pulled away in the third overtime to clinch the win.
Finnish international Mikko Koivisto delivered his best performance in a Gaziantep jersey since joining the Turkish side in the winter and finished with a game-high 22 points on 6-of-7 from beyond the three-point arc.
Ernest Bremer and Can Ogut collected 18 points apiece, with the latter also adding six rebounds and five assists to round off his display.
With three rounds of games left in the regular season Gaziantep occupy ninth place in the standings, one win off the pace of Tofas Bursa, which makes a face-off for the last play-off berth when the two teams meet on the final day of action more and more likely.
Gaziantep's opponents in the second EuroChallenge semi-final on Friday, Reggio Emilia, also won at home at the weekend albeit in much more relaxed fashion.
The Final Four hosts played host to bottom-of-the-table Victoria Libertas Pesaro in Serie A action on Saturday and cruised to a comfy 92-61 win.
Reggio Emilia held a 10-point cushion (39-29) at the half-time buzzer but pulled away decisively after the break, out-scoring their guests 36-15 in the third frame.
Troy Bell and James White scored 14 points apiece for the winners while Andrea Cinciarini collected a double-double of 13 points and 11 assists, also adding seven rebounds.
Amedeo Della Valle, the MVP of last summer's U20 European Championship and gold medal winner with Italy, made his debut for Reggio Emilia and stayed on the floor for six minutes, without scoring.
The young guard is not eligible to participate in the EuroChallenge Final Four since he joined the club after the quarter-final play-offs.
Another Italian international who is eligible to play in the big event however, big man Angelo Gigli, did not play on Saturday as he is still undergoing therapy for a hamstring strain and remains doubtful for Friday's semi-final.
|Balázs Simon nailed the game winner for Szolnoki Olaj|
Meanwhile the third semi-finalist who was in domestic league action at the weekend, Szolnoki Olaj, escaped with a 78-77 win over Alba Fehérvár on the road.
Szolnok were trailing their hosts 77-76 with eight seconds left to the final buzzer but point guard Balazs Simon took the responsibility of the last shot upon himself and knocked down the game-winner.
Small forward Strahinja Milosevic, who had 15 points, led five Szolnok players in double digits as Justin Holiday finished with 12 points, David Vojvoda and Akos Keller each scored 11 and Marton Bader picked up 10 points.
Simon meanwhile finished with eight points on 4-for-7 from the floor, including his game-winning jumper.
Szolnok are tied at 7-1 with Atomerömü at the top of the Hungarian first division standings.
The Hungarian side are going up against Triumph Lyubersty in the first semi-final in Bologna on Friday.
The Russian team are the only one of the EuroChallenge semi-finalists to have not played a competitive game in the past month and opted to undergo a mini training camp in Lithuania in order to prepare for the Final Four.