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Champions League: Brose Bamberg defeats title holders Athens by 77:73

Bamberg, 01-08-2019

Brose Bamberg has got off to an excellent start to its final five group games in the Champions League in the new year, beating reigning champions and group leaders AEK Athens by 77:73 after 40 intense and fiercely contested minutes. Although the team of Head Coach Ainars Bagatskis was not able to win on aggregate following its 86:93 defeat in the first game between the two clubs, it has still retained a chance of winning the group.

Elias Harris, who was missing in the game in Ulm two days previously due to gastrointestinal problems, put his stamp on the encounter in the opening minutes, scoring four points to put his side 4:2 ahead and adding two more in a run of nine points without reply to enable Bamberg to move 15:11 ahead after trailing 6:11. The tight first period (19:20) was to be symptomatic of the whole encounter: The top game in Group C was not a basketball treat containing spectacular moves to set the crowd alight, but rather one fierce tussle for every ball and every centimeter over all of its 40 minutes. The lead changed hands 30 times, the scores were tied on 18 occasions, and the highest lead for both sides up to the 35th minute was just five points, in each case before the break. However, Bamberg was more attentive in possession, conceded just one turnover in the first half and really ought to have gone in at the break with a comfortable cushion. However, when leading 39:34 with 23 seconds remaining on the clock, Bamberg committed two big mistakes. First, it let its focus slip in defense, enabling the Greek club to snap up a rebound after missing and add a lay-up (39:36). And then, instead of using up all the time available up to the break for the next attack, Stevan Jelovac needlessly attempted a bucket from downtown with 14 seconds left in the half and missed – allowing AEK to go down the other end and tie the game: 39:39, a flattering scoreline for the visitors.

Both defenses were more solid after the break, easy buckets were few and far between, and points were hard fought for rather than carved out with sparkling moves. Augustine Rubit was in reliable form under the basket and the strong American chalked up seven of his total haul of 11 points in this spell. Going in to the final period with a narrow 56:55 lead, Bamberg was slowly able to stretch the gap to eight by the 35th minute, as Stevan Jelovac made amends for his mistake before the break with six points and important rebounds, while top scorer Tyrese Rice (13 points) added a lay-up and bonus free throw to make it 70:62. Yet it was precisely at that point that Bamberg reverted to making small mistakes – and, in the style of a top-class team, Athens capitalized on them to equalize just two minutes later (71:71). Both teams then defended more roughly to prevent their opponents from scoring. Nikos Zisis pierced the defense of his former first professional club to make it 73:71, but Athens equalized with 52 seconds to go. Yet this time Bamberg was not to suffer another last-second tragedy on the European stage: The experienced home side skillfully exploited Athens’ foul count, as Tyrese Rice and Augustine Rubit provoked fouls and securely drained the free throws to put their side 77:73 ahead. And at the back, Bamberg stood tight against AEK’s final five attacks.

Ainars Bagatskis commented: “We were ready to play from the word go. The question after the tough game in Ulm two days ago was how long we could maintain our aggression and energy. In games against such experienced opponents, it’s the small things that are decisive in the end. If you’re late in raising your hand to block a three-pointer or forget to box out an opponent when there’s a rebound just once, then you slip behind. All in all, we did a very good job and rightfully won the game.”