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AEK - Benetton :: 83-75

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AEK started the Top 16 in style by beating Benetton Treviso 83-75 at home in Athens on Wednesday to quickly assume co-leadership in Group G. AEK broke open a one-point game early in the final quarter to establish a 1-0 record and join Efes Pilsen, which beat Prokom Trefl Sopot, in first place. Benetton dropped to 0-1. Nikos Hatzis, Nikos Zisis and Toby Bailey led the winners with 17 points apiece, while Quadre Lollis and Sandro Nicevic each had 10 points and 6 rebounds for AEK. David Bluthenthal and Massimo Bulleri led Benetton with 13 points each. Ramunas Siskauskas added 12, Matteo Soragna 11 and Marcus Goree 10 for the guests. Three-pointers by Hatzis, Zizis and Lollis helped AEK to get a safe lead in the fourth quarter. Benetton was within striking distance late until Bailey's shot on the shot-clock buzzer sealed the outcome.

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Benetton opened the game with 5 unanswered points by Soragna and Siskauskas, but AEK quickly tightened its defense and reacted with a 7-0 run of its own as Bailey connected from three-point-range and Zisis drove for a pair of layups. Good transition and even better ball movement kept AEK moving ahead while its defense held Benetton 4 minutes without a point. Finally, Joey Beard ended the visitors's drought, cutting the difference to 12-7. Benetton still had its problems, however as Zisis hit free throws and Nicevic a hook as AEK doubled its guests on the scoreboard, 16-8. Beard dunked twice to pull Benetton within 18-14 before Lollis and Kus filled up a 6-0 run to send AEK to a double-digit lead, 24-14, as the buzzer rang for the end of the first quarter.

Benetton used zone defense to start the second quarter and on offense got more people involved. Recent addition David Bluthenthal nailed a triple, Denis Marconato dunked it and Marcus Goree added another shot from the arc. Meanwhile, AEK missed 4 of 5 shots and saw its lead trimmed to 26-22. Bailey and Hatzis boosted it back to 30-22, but then Paccelis Morlende and Siskauskas fired Benetton within 30-27. Again Hatzis came to the rescue from the arc, then Georgios Tsiaras added a fade-away jumper for the hosts. Both teams continued finding offensive solutions in the paint; AEK in the hands of Nicevic and Benetton in those of Beard. Hatzis and Massimo Bulleri chipped in a triple each for their teams, but it was Soragna who finally gave Benetton the lead, at 41-40, with a shot from behind the arc. Hatzis nailed the fourth consecutive triple of the game and his third before halftime to restore the lead at 43-42 for AEK as the first half

came to a close.

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Both teams returned from their locker rooms ready for battle. A triple by Bailey fired up the home crowd, but Soragna immediately proved that Athens suits him (he won silver at the Olympics with Italy) by exploding for 5 straight points to put Benetton back ahead, and Bulleri followed with a jump shot to make it 48-51. Zisis carried AEK now as the teams exchanged baskets through the middle of the quarter, when Benetton clung to a 54-55 advantage. Then came 3 tense and completely scoreless minutes before free throws by Siskauskas were offset by a layup from AEK's Giannis Bourousis, leaving another one-point difference on the scoreboard, 56-57 in favor of Benetton, after 30 minutes.

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It was either team's game to take as the final quarter began, but within mnutes it was all AEK. A big three-pointer on the fastbreak by Hatzis put AEK back in front and got the home crowd going loud. Bailey got fouled on a triple and made all 3 free throws to raise the margin to 62-57. Bulleri nailed a layup in traffic, but a minute later, it was Zisis doing the same and, one the next possession, throwing down a triple to open the lead even wider, at 67-59. Lollis sustained it with his own shot from the arc, but soon Siskauskas connected to cut the difference to 72-65. The more than 4 minutes left was plenty of time for Benetton's potent offense, but when Bluthenthal delivered a critical triple to make it 72-68, Hatzis responded big-time seconds later with his fifth triple from the corner. Another Bluthenthal triple would make it 77-71 with under 2 minutes left, but on the next play, Bailey drilled a killer jumper on the shot-clock buzzer for AEK. After Nicevic connected in the final minute, there was no time left for a Benetton rally. AEK had stopped one of the hottest teams around to start the Top 16 on the right foot.

Stelios Kyriakoglou, Athens

(From Euroleague.net)

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