01 September, 2016
30 April, 2017
10 Ognjen Jaramaz (SRB)
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Juventus edge Mega Leks in battle of debutants

SREMSKA MITROVICA, SERBIA (Basketball Champions League) – Lithuania’s Juventus Utena celebrated a dramatic 79-77 win at Serbian rivals Mega Leks in Group D on Tuesday, after the home side missed a chance to force the final twist in their last possession of an absorbing contest.

The result left Juventus on three wins and one defeat while Mega Leks have a 1-3 record after coming up short in a game between two teams tasting European competition for the first time.

The first quarter produced a roller-coaster as Mega Leks conjured an 8-0 run to take a 12-8 lead after falling behind, driven by eight points from Slovenian forward Vlatko Cancar who enjoyed a fine performance. 

However, the visitors turned things around and dominated proceedings from there on, thanks to a barrage of offensive rebounds.
Mega’s towering French centre Alpha Kaba was made to work too hard in the paint at both ends of the court, allowing Juventus to collect a staggering 29 rebounds in the opening half, 10 of them offensive.

With Juventus pulling away into a 29-21 lead in the second quarter, it was effervescent three-point shooting from the 19-year old Cancar which kept the home side afloat, as he finished the first half on 16 points.
At the other end, a balanced team effort saw Jamar Diggs, Vytautas Sulskis and Valdas Vasylius sink 8 points each as Juventus held a 38-33 lead at the interval.

There seemed to be no way back for Mega Leks at the end of a somewhat one-sided third quarter, with Utena’s forward Vaidas Cepukaitis doing the damage to hand the visitors a commanding 61-49 advantage heading into the last 10 minutes.
Cancar, who had averaged just four points per game prior to the contest, was again subdued and although the visitors frequently misfired from long range, they hit crunch three-pointers whenever Mega looked like closing the gap.

However, the home side were not about to roll over and launched a spirited fightback in the home straight. Cancar rediscovered his shooting form in the final period while Jovan Novak and Kostja Mushidi finally found their range. Juventus appeared to be cruising home after Diggs and Dovis Bickauskis nailed three shots from downtown to give the Lithuanian side a 72-61 lead, but the hosts came storming back and missed a golden opportunity to turned the match on its head in the dying seconds. Bicakuskis hit one of two free throws to make the score 79-77 to the visitors, after which Novak missed a three-pointer and Kaba failed to force overtime with a tip-in on the buzzer. 

“This is the fifth game of the season in all competitions that we have lost in the last possession, but I can only applaud my players for leaving it all out there,” Mega Leks coach Dejan Milojevic told a press conference after the game. “I am sure we will be rewarded for our hard work, meaning that we just have to pull our socks up and move on. This is a young team with a lot of potential.”

Cancar added: “It went down to the wire after we hauled ourselves back into the contest from a double-digit deficit, but we came up short in the end. Still, we can be pleased with a spirited performance.” Cancar finished with a game-high 22 points and Kaba poured 15 to go with 16 rebounds for the home side, but the athletic centre hit only three of eight shots from the foul line. Cepukaitis sank all his eight shots from the floor to finish on 19 points, having also made just three of eight free throws, Sulskis added 18 and Diggs chipped in with 16 for Juventus.