BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Ojars Silins collected 14 points in Reggio Emilia's road win on Tuesday evening|
To say that Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia, the newly crowned EuroChallenge champions, are a team that has not travelled particularly well this season, would be a huge understatement.
Reggio Emilia had played a total of 46 games between Italian Serie A and EuroChallenge until Tuesday night and had only five wins on the road to show for it.
On Tuesday, the EuroChallenge champions, who finished in seventh place in the Italian domestic league regular season with a 15-15 record, travelled to Siena for Game 1 of their quarter-final play-off series with reigning Italian champions Montepaschi [Mens Sana Siena].
If one takes into consideration their record on the road Reggio look like a dream opponent for any team that has the home-court advantage, but on Tuesday they came out guns blazing, converted almost every shot attempt from the floor and jumped to a 28-13 lead at the end of the opening quarter.
Siena somewhat reduced the gap to 50-40 by the half-time buzzer but with five of their players scoring in double digits on 72% or better two-point shooting percentage, Reggio went into the final period with a 17-point cushion, 72-55.
The hosts unleashed a ferocious assault in the fourth but, this time, Reggio managed to hold on to their lead in a road game and clinched an 85-82 victory that has erased Siena's home-court advantage in the series.
"Our shooting accuracy was fantastic but, beyond that, I think tonight we made excellent choices on offence because we attacked the basket at the right moments and we moved the ball very well," commented Reggio head coach Massimiliano Menetti afterwards.
"I think we had three huge quarters in which we did everything almost everything right, especially on offence."
James White paved the way for Reggio with 22 points and eight rebounds, Ojars Silins had 14 points while Andrea Cinciarini and Riccardo Cervi chipped in with 12 points each.
"At the beginning of the fourth quarter Siena came out strong, as the great team they are," Menetti said.
"There were five minutes in which Siena found their rhythm offensively and gave us a bit of a scare, this is something that can prove fatal in a play-off game."
Except this time it didn't prove fatal for Reggio, and this was a critical occasion, as in all those precious few games where this team escaped with a win on the road.
In December, they claimed first place in Group E of the EuroChallenge regular season thanks to their 78-71 win over Okapi Aalstar in Belgium.
In late February, they edged out Krka Novo Mesto 69-66 in an overtime thriller in Slovenia to advance from the Last 16.
And then in the play-offs, they prevailed 73-71 over former EuroChallenge champions Krasnye Krylia in Russia, to punch their ticket to the Final Four, which they went on to host and win.
|"We normally celebrate a win until midnight, but tonight the celebration is ending here and now because we know we are facing a great team and we need to focus on trying to play well also in Game 2" - Head Coach Massimiliano Menetti (Reggio Emilia)|
Similarly, Reggio's two away victories in the Serie A, in Pesaro and in Bologna, proved crucial in the play-off race - Caserta, who finished in ninth place and was left out of the post-season, also had a 15-15 record.
"We normally celebrate a win until midnight, but tonight the celebration is ending here and now because we know we are facing a great team and we need to focus on trying to play well also in Game 2," Menetti said at the press conference, a few minutes after the end of the game.
This is a best-of-five series and the Reggio coach knows that Siena have the sufficient quality to turn the tables on them.
"The first quarter was like a punch in the face but my players, albeit late, reacted and we almost came back today," said Siena coach Marco Crespi.
"I would like to believe this a sign of our capacity to react in Game 2 and the rest of the series."
Interestingly, Siena's biggest ever league victory on the road was ecorded at Reggio Emilia, when the Tuscan team prevailed 118-116 after double overtime in 1999.
Elsewehere on Tuesday night, EuroChallenge Final Four participants Szolnoki Olaj claimed a 76-64 win over Kaposvari KK in Game 1 of the Hungarian League play-off semi-finals.
Justin Holiday led all Szolnok scorers with 13 points, Marton Bader added 11 while Akos Keller and David Vojvoda finished with 10 points apiece.
Szolnok, who had previously swept Kormend 3-0 in the quarter-finals, are now two wins away from securing their return to the finals series in order to defend their domestic title.