Reigning champions and cup winners Brose Bamberg have secured second spot after the regular season with two wins on the last two matchdays. The team of Head Coach Andrea Trinchieri benefited from the 74:72 defeat its rival FC Bayern Munich suffered at Upper Franconian neighbors medi Bayreuth on Saturday, while it eked out an arduous 85:84 win over Bremerhaven Polar Bears. That meant Bamberg was already certain of second place before the encounter in Jena (74:61).
Trinchieri’s team got off to a flourishing start against the Polar Bears: Jerel McNeal with a half-distance shot, a bucket from beyond the arc by Darius Miller and a thunderous slam-dunk by Nicolo Melli put their side 7:0 in front after just 73 seconds. Then came a big shock for the home side: Playmaker Nikos Zisis was pushed by an opponent, both his feet buckled under him and he remained lying on the floor. Supported by team doctor Andras Först, the Greek veteran left the court – and it is uncertain whether he will be back in action for the start of the playoffs. Trinchieri is normally spoiled for choice in the playmaker position, but, as bad luck would have it, he had left Fabien Causeur and Janis Strelnieks out of the squad for this game. As result, Bamberg had to rely on the two youngsters Maodo Lo (10 points) and Aleksej Nikolic. Bamberg’s play was initially disrupted, with the result that it trailed 22:32 after twelve minutes. Lo, Miller and Nikolic helped the home side recapture the lead (38:37), but Bremerhaven’s Jordan Hulls laid bare the weaknesses in Bamberg’s defense with an incredible four buckets from downtown in the space of 97 seconds. The club from Lower Saxony was even able to extend the gap to 58:46 after the break before Trinchieri’s players flipped the switch and launched a comeback. The strong Jerel McNeal (10 points) tied the encounter at 72:72 at the beginning of the fourth period and the top scorers Darius Miller and Aleksej Nikolic (16 points apiece) each scored five points in the final quarter to seal a narrow 85:84 win in the final second.
Bamberg had already clinched second spot going into the final game of the regular season. Head Coach Trinchieri therefore rested Daniel Theis, Darius Miller and Vladimir Veremeenko, while Zisis and Harris were also missing through injury. That meant Arnoldas Kulboka (19) made his German League debut. And the Lithuanian player impressively repaid his coach’s trust: The ProA series player from Baunach drained three buckets from outside and a lay-up to score 11 points and ended up as Bamberg’s top scorer with a total haul of 13. He also snapped up five rebounds, made two assists and stole the ball once from Jena in the 74:61 victory – a strong debut for the 19-year-old, who has a contract with Bamberg until 2020.
Andrea Trinchieri commented: “We staged an incredible comeback at the end against Bremerhaven. We weren’t ready before that and gave away the first half in two minutes. We lacked tenacity in defense. Today’s game was very emotional, like a playoff. Regardless of the break for three of our key players, we took the game in Jena very seriously. The duel was more physical that I’d expected beforehand. But I believe that’s a big advantage with regard to the playoff quarter-final. We’re ready and the two games were excellent preparation for the playoffs.”
The defending champs and cup winners Brose Bamberg embark on this year’s playoffs on Saturday, May 6, 2017, when Telekom Baskets Bonn visit the Brose Arena (tip-off: 3 p.m.).