Putting the 2018 ghosts to rest: Murcia defeat AEK in Athens
ATHENS (Greece) - For the first time in eight seasons in the Basketball Champions League, AEK BETSSON BC have lost four straight games. It was UCAM Murcia who got them on Tuesday, erasing the bitter memories of Athens 2018.
Back in BCL Season 2 Murcia played incredible basketball to reach the Final Four in Athens and faced AEK in the Semi-Final, in front of 16,000 home fans. The silence became deafening as the Spaniards pushed AEK all the way to the finish line, but their Cinderella story ended in a 77-75 defeat, allowing AEK to go on and win the whole thing in the Final.
Both teams have changed completely since then, but on Tuesday, AEK and UCAM Murcia were set for their first matchup since that Semi-Final. This time around the roles reversed and AEK were the underdog up against a red-hot Murcia.
There were 13 lead changes in a close encounter, only for UCAM to create a bigger gap in the final five minutes, keeping AEK at bay in all their late comeback attempts.
Murcia prevailed 84-79 and climbed to 3-0 in the standings, while AEK dropped to 0-3 ahead of the February break. It marked AEK's first ever four-game losing streak in BCL history, which sounds almost incredible considering they had gone 5-0 prior to that.
At the same time, putting those 2018 ghosts to rest is somewhat symbolic for Murcia. They lost their first game of the season to Bertram Derthona Tortona only to go on an eight-game winning run after that, the longest active streak in this season's BCL, and UCAM's longest ever, tying the one in the 2018-19 season.
Marko Todorovic was a late arrival for coach Sito Alonso, but he is fitting in nicely. He finished with a team-high 21 points on Tuesday, including a pair of big three-pointers when it mattered most.
Dylan Ennis played his 50th BCL game and was one assist short of a double-double with 11 points, but to make this all about AEK and Murcia history, the man of the hour was neither one of them.
Howard Sant-Roos, who arrived in Athens after the 2018 Final Four and spent a couple of seasons with AEK, led UCAM Murcia in this one with a typical HSR Experience: 11 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and an efficiency rating of 21.
AEK got 20 points from Jordan McRae, but they will be two games behind second spot in the group after the first half of the Round of 16. Murcia are inches away from a place in the Quarter-Finals, AEK sense the same distance to elimination.
"Maybe they thought it was one of their last opportunities to stay alive in the group, but watching their level - I am sure they will compete until the last moment, so I am very happy that we were able to beat them here," Murcia's head coach Sito Alonso said after the game.
The rivalry will be renewed immediately after the break, when AEK travel to Spain for the reverse fixture on March 12.