Partizan grind out tough home win against Zielona Gora
BELGRADE (Basketball Champions League) – Partizan Belgrade delighted their passionate fans in the Pionir Arena with a hard-fought 58-56 win over visiting Stelmet Zielona Gora in a physical and low-scoring contest on Tuesday.
The Serbian side came out on top in a thrilling rollercoaster after their captain and top performer Novica Velickovic scored the final points of the game and James Florence stepped out of bounds at the other end, with time running out for the visitors.
“It was as physical as we thought it would be, because Partizan are one of the most physical teams in our group,” Florence, who led Stelmet with a game-high 16 points, told www.championsleague.basketball. “We knew it was going to be a fight till the end and unfortunately, some of the bounces went the other way. They responded and fed off the energy of their crowd. Every time we came up with a big shot, they came up with one.
“They deserved their win. This is one of my favourite places to play in Europe, the atmosphere is quite simply unmatched. This is a very tough competition, all our games have been very close,” he said.
Having beaten Ludwigsburg and then lost to Besiktas in their opening two road games, Partizan were given a stern test of their credentials in their first home game of the season in the Basketball Champions League.
A balanced first quarter saw both teams commit a flurry of turnovers thanks to steely defending at both ends, before the rivals nailed several three-pointers to light up the atmosphere. A slam-dunk by Adin Vrabac from a Branislav Ratkovica alley-hoop got the home crowd roaring midway through the first period before a 9-0 run in the second quarter gave Partizan a 28-22 lead.
However, the visitors fought back to slash the deficit to 35-32 at halftime, tracing the path to a titanic tussle in the second half. Stelmet were well on top in the third quarter as their aggressive half-court pressure forced a barrage of turnovers from Partizan and limited them to just 6 points, allowing the Polish side to take a 45-41 advantage into the last 10 minutes.
A Stefan Bircevic dunk off a Stelmet turnover again turned the tide as Partizan edged ahead 46-45 early in the fourth quarter, setting up a pulsating finish in the Serbian capital.
Stelmet appeared to have forced the final twist after Florence nailed a three-pointer from downtown to give the visiting team a 54-50 lead in the home straight, but Partizan clawed their way into the match thanks to a late surge by Velickovic.
The power forward tipped in a rebound before Ratkovica sank a pair of free throws to put the home side on level terms and then Velickovic drove through to score the final basket of the game with 17 seconds left to finish on 15 points for the home side.
Stelmet threw away their last possession as Florence stepped out of bounds in an effort to pump-fake a three-pointer with two seconds left, sending a joyous home crowd into raptures.
“We beat a very good team and I am delighted with the performance as well as with the result,” Partizan’s head coach Aleksandar Dzikic told a press conference.
“Fatigue has crept in because this was our 10th game within a month and the vast majority of them have been very dramatic. It’s exhausting physically and mentally. We made a lot of mistakes tonight but our fighting spirit helped us come through.”