|12 March 2014|
Will the composition of the EuroChallenge Final Four be decided, at least partially, on Thursday or will the four teams that lost Game 1 bounce back and prolong their play-off series?
Triumph Lyubertsy, Tartu University Rock, Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia and Royal Hali Gaziantep are one win away from the end-of-season show-piece tournament, while Ural Ekaterinburg, Krasnye Krylia, Szolnoki Olaj and Tsmoki Minsk are the four teams entering the Thursday encounters with their backs to the wall.
We break down the four Game 2 quarter-final clashes below.
Triumph Lyubertsy vs. Ural Ekaterinburg
Series Score: 1-0
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Key Match-Up: Courdon Higgins vs. Lance Harris
Harris scored a game-high 27 points on Tuesday and kept Ekaterinburg in the game until late almost single-handedly, while Higgins had a discreet showing by his own high standards and finished with 15 points. Ekaterinburg will need a repetition of those circumstances as well as coming up with additional options on offence if they are to stand a chance to tie the series.
Key Stat: Ekaterinburg were the second-best rebounding team in the EuroChallenge coming into Game 1, averaging 42.9 rebounds per contest, yet Triumph, who were only collecting 33.7 boards on average prior to Tuesday, out-rebounded them 40 to 28 thanks to an excellent collective effort.
Game Notes: Triumph's Kyle Landry needs two more rebounds to leapfrog Krka Novo Mesto's Christopher Booker in sixth place on the EuroChallenge all-time rebounders list. Booker has corralled a total of 327 boards in his EuroChallenge career. Triumph became on Tuesday the first team to win in Ekaterinburg in this year's EuroChallenge. Serbian big man Milovan Rakovic of Triumph was a team-mate of Ural Ekaterinburg's Dmitrii Nikolaev and Alexander Korchagin on another Russian side, Spartak St. Petersburg, in the 2007/08 season.
Szolnoki Olaj vs. Tartu University Rock
Series Score: 0-1
Key Match-Up: Justin Holiday vs. Tanel Kurbas
The two wingers poured in 19 and 18 points respectively in Game 1 and fulfilled to perfection their roles as the supporting cast from the perimeter of high-scoring big men Vilmantas Dilys and Peter Lorant. The two teams combined for 170 points on Tuesday and if Game 2 is a similarly high-scoring affair, they will both need as many offensive options as possible.
Key Stat: Tartu attempted a EuroChallenge season-high 37 three-pointers in Game 1, hitting 13 of them. The Estonians took only 24 two-point shots on Tuesday, 12.7 below their season average. While conventional wisdom suggests they could not shy away from passing the ball inside and get away with it for a second consecutive time, Tartu had actually taken 36 in their Last 16 clash with Gaz Metan Medias and also won that game, with a comfortable 90-66.
Game Notes: Tartu's Janar Talts could become the third player with most games played in the history of the EuroChallenge if his team advance to the Final Four, regardless of whether this occurs on Thursday or after Game 3, but will stay in fourth place if Tartu are eliminated by Szolnoki. That is because Talts needs to play three more games n order to overtake former Antwerp Giants player Ralph Biggs, who had featured in 76 EuroChallenge encounters in his career.
Krasnye Krylia vs. Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia
Series Score: 1-0
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Key Match-Up: Demetris Nichols vs. James White
White scored a season-low six points on Tuesday and his team still won, but Reggio Emilia really need the American small forward on the road, where he always scores in double digits, even when his team-mates struggle (Reggio Emilia have won only three games on the road this season, including Serie A and EuroChallenge). Nichols on the other hand seemed to be able to find open looks in Game 1 as the Italian defence concentrated on Michal Ignerski and collected 14 points on 6-for-10 from the floor; the Krasnye Krylia forward is perfectly capable of scoring in the twenties should he receive more balls from his team-mates.
Key Stat: Reggio Emilia looked for the open man and dished out a team season-high 22 assists in Game 1, while Krasnye Krylia assumed an 'every man for himself' approach and finished with a season-low four assists. Those figures are in stark contrast with what the two teams had shown up until the play-offs, as Krasnye Krylia were averaging a EuroChallenge second-best 16.9 assists and Reggio Emilia had 13.8 assists per game.
Game Notes: Reggio Emilia will be playing on Thursday their third game in the space of less than five days, as they had gone up against EA7 Emporio Armani Milano last Sunday in an Italian league encounter with an 8:30pm tip-off. Krasnye Krylia captain Aaron Miles needs three more assists to reach the landmark of 200 assists in the EuroChallenge and at the same time overtake Travis Conlan, who has 199 assists, in fifth place on the EuroChallenge all-time list.
Tsmoki Minsk vs. Royal Hali Gaziantep
Series Score: 0-1
Key Match-Up: Branko Mirkovic vs. Baris Ermis
If the Game 1 pattern is repeated on Thursday, froncourt players on both sides are more than likely to play a rather decorative role on offence, their contribution being limited to setting up screens on the perimeter. On such evidence, the two experienced point guards, who combined for 25 shots from the floor in Game 1, could once again take the lion's share on offence.
Key Stat: Minsk, the best rebounding team in the EuroChallenge, out-rebounded Gaziantep 22-12 during the first half on Tuesday and gained a 21-point lead. It seemed like the Belarusians were coping just fine with the loss of their starting frontcourt duo to injury, but the Turkish side out-rebounded them 21-12 in the second half, to turn the tables around. Minsk also committed 16 turnovers, off which Gaziantep scored a crucial 18 points.
Game Notes: Minsk's Keith Benson is unlikely to feature in Thursday's game but could make a return to action next week, if the series goes to a third game. Fellow Minsk big man Vincent Hunter is sidelined until the end of March and is ruled out of the series. Despite their loss in Game 1, Minsk remain the highest-scoring and best rebounding team in the EuroChallenge but have dropped to second place in the competition in field goal percentage, as they are down to 47.5%, from 48% before Tuesday.