Romanian champs steal first place on last possession, Holon watch in disbelief
MIES (Switzerland) - Hapoel U-NET Holon were in control of first place in group for a couple of minutes, but U-BT Cluj Napoca erased a 14-point deficit in last four minutes to defeat Darussafaka in Istanbul and finish top of group.
That means the Romanian champions will move to the Round of 16, while Holon and Darussafaka are in the Play-In series to reach that part of the competition. Cluj will be in the same group as Unicaja in the Round of 16, Holon have home court advantage against Besiktas Icrypex in the Play-In series, while Darussafaka needs to defeat Hereda San Pablo Burgos on the road at least once to reach the sweet 16.
Hapoel U-NET Holon put up 30 points in the first quarter against Happy Casa Brindisi, and were never going to give that lead up. Once the Italians made their push and got within reach in the final minutes, it was time for coach Maurizio Buscaglia to hand the ball to Guy Pnini and enjoy the show.
The 38-year-old did what he does best, hitting another clutch three-pointer to seal the deal. It finished 84-80, Joe Ragland leading the way with 19 points and 8 assists. Rafael Menco also had 19 points, Chris Johnson collected 16 points and 12 boards, Pnini counted to ten.
Holon players knew they needed help from Darussafaka in the other game, and joined the fans to gather around the best available stream of the Darussafaka v Cluj finish - the one used for the Instant Replay System on the scorer's table.
They were ready to throw a party when they saw that Dacka opened up an 88-70 lead with eight minutes to play. They were ready to throw a party when they saw that Dacka held a 98-84 lead with four minutes remaining. They were ready to throw a party when they saw that Dacka knocked down a triple to make it 101-94 with just over two minutes to play.
But the party never happened.
That's because U-BT Cluj Napoca pulled off one of the most impressive comebacks in the history of the Basketball Champions League. Coach Mihai Silvasan ordered full court press, with extreme risk on each pass, and the short term approach paid off for Cluj, resulting in eight (!) Darussafaka turnovers over the last four minutes.
Karel Guzman and Brandon Brown took over offensively, Brown's triple making it a two-point game, Guzman's layup tying the score at 101-all inside the final minute.
On the next possession, Troy Caupain slipped and passed it straight to Brown, who was fouled by Isaiah Pineiro and knocked down both shots to give Cluj a 103-101 lead with seven seconds to play.
Darussafaka had one last chance to tie or go for the win, but in line with their last quarter, they turned the ball over once more as time expired, finishing the game with ten of their 21 turnovers coming in the final quarter.
Guzman had 26 points off the bench, Brown and Dustin Hogue scored 19 each, Patrick Richard scored 12, Stefan Bircevic and Andrija Stipanovic 11 apiece in a game that saw both Stipanovic and Darussafaka's Gabe Olaseni ejected for multiple unsportsmanlike fouls.
"It was an intense game, but these are the type of games we live for," an ecstatic Hogue said.
"Our team was able to rally back and fight. We were down 18 points in the fourth quarter, and it shows our heart that we were able to come back and fight, and limit them, and make them turn the ball over, it was the defense that got us back into the game."
Coach Silvasan was also struggling to stay calm when talking about the game.
"We just took it possession by possession and we also had a bit of luck. I'm really glad, extremely happy for my players that the outcome was like that, we qualified from the first spot to the next group stage of the Basketball Champions League," Cluj's playcaller offered.
Dogus Ozdemiroglu led the scoring for the hosts with 19 points, but they only managed to finish third, meaning they have to get over the defending champs to reach the Round of 16 group stage.
U-BT Cluj Napoca will play against Unicaja over there, waiting for the other two teams after the Play-In series in January.