|Cory Higgins was awarded for being the top scorer in the VTB Regular Seaon |
EuroChallenge finalists Triumph Lyubertsy have become the only team in this season's VTB United League play-offs to advance to the quarter-finals despite losing Game 1 of their first-round series.
Triumph not only won both crucial home games against Spartak St Petersbourg to turn the 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 series win, but did so within the space of 24 hours.
Playing with their backs to the wall after a 74-57 loss in Game 1 on the road, Triumph took Spartak by storm on Monday night to win the second game of the series with the exact same score, 74-57, at home.
Cory Higgins, who prior to the game was presented by Ilona Korstin with his award as the league's top scorer in the regular season, paved the way with 17 points (on 5-of-10 shooting from the floor), three rebounds and five assists, Evgeny Voronov added 13 points and Jeremy Chappell collected 10 points and four rebounds.
The true protagonist for Triumph though was their defence, as they stole 12 balls from Spartak and forced their guests to take most of their shots from long range, shooting just 24% from beyond the three-point arc.
Vasily Karasev's men followed a similar recipe in the deciding Game 3 too, the very next night, but Spartak had not travelled to Moscow Region to see the sights and posed great resistance until the final quarter of the Tuesday encounter.
Triumph opened up a 33-23 gap midway through the second quarter but Spartak reduced to 35-33 at the half-time buzzer and then jumped ahead 38-35 shortly after the break.
Dmitry Kulagin with a dunk and Chappell with a triple restored Triumph in the driver's seat, 44-40, but Spartak continued breathing down the hosts necks' until early in the fourth frame.
It was then that Russian international Evgeny Valiev picked up two consecutive boards and poured in five points, within just 24 seconds, to increase Triumph's cushion to 51-41, an advantage the hosts would maintain more or less intact until the final buzzer to secure a 66-59 victory.
"I'm very happy that Evgeny Valiev played well during these two home play-off games," Triumph head coach Vasily Karasev commented afterwards.
"We won thanks in large part to his efforts."
Higgins led all Triumph scorers with 18 points and added four boards while Valiev finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
"Over these two games, we expended a lot of energy and strength," Karasev said once the series was done and dusted.
"We defended aggressively, trying to quickly transition from defence to offence.
"Today [Tuesday], as in the first game, our field-goal percentage dropped, but in every other aspect we were better than Spartak.
"We played with heart and it's possible we had more desire to win."
Triumph will now face Lietuvos Rytas in the quarter-finals, with the Lithuanian side having the homecourt advantage in the series.
The three other quarter-final match-ups in the VTB league are all-Russian affairs as Khimki Moscow Region go up against Nizhny Novgorod, CSKA Moscow face Lokomotiv Kuban and EuroChallenge 2013 champions Krasnye Krylia clash with Unics Kazan.
|24 points from Domen Lorbek was not enough to help Royal Hali Gaziantep avoid defeat|
GAZIANTEP FINISH IN NINTH
EuroChallenge semi-finalists Royal Hali Gaziantep concluded their 2013/14 campaign on Tuesday night, with a 93-76 loss at Tofas Bursa on the final day of action in the Turkish BEKO TBL league regular season.
Tofas led 48-45 at the interval and the game remained too close to call until the end of the third quarter, but the hosts pulled away with comfort in the final frame as Gaziantep only scored 11 points in that period and gave up 25.
Domen Lorbek had a game-high 24 points for Gaziantep while Oliver Stevic contributed 11 points and seven rebounds.
The result had no real bearing on Gaziantep's final position in the TBL standings, as they had missed out on the play-off race last week and will finish the season in ninth spot with a 13-17 record.
Tofas on the other side, a team that also competed in the EuroChallenge this season, has already secured a top-eight finish and a play-off berth, and will finish in seventh place in case Uşak Sportif lose against Trabzonspor tonight, in the game that concludes regular season action in Turkey.