It looked in doubt for much of the first half but eventually Lietuvos Rytas booked their place in the Euroleague regular season with a 75-66 victory over BC Telenet Ostend.
Give Lietuvos Rytas 7 competent minutes and they will give you nightmares. That’s what BC Telenet Ostend found out in the first half of their clash with the hosts in Vilnius. The Belgians looked awfully nervous in the early going, with the tone set by a horrible air-ball from Pierre-Antoine Gillet. After falling into a 9-2 hole, Ostend went on a 22-3 run fuelled by a creative and opportunistic offence. Gillet more than made up for his initial effort with a 4 of 4 display from beyond the arc after that in the first half. While three-pointers fuelled the Belgian’s lead, it was their work inside that kept Rytas honest. Time and again they found room to drive through the lane and Dirk Bauermann’s side look flat out porous on defence.
With the gap as wide as 14 points at one stage, the game was starting to slip away from Rytas mid-way through the second quarter. Then came a vital substitution as Eimantas Bendzius nailed a three and followed it up with a breakaway lay-up straight afterwards. The home crowd, which had been silenced by the underdog’s strong start, finally started to get back in the game. With 17 seconds left in the quarter Renaldas Seibuitis had a chance to tie things up but he missed a lay-up and Ostend entered the break with a 43-41 lead. Rytas however had got out of jail. Now the onus was on them to make the second chance count.
Martynas Gecevicius didn’t need to be told twice. The man who went 8 of 10 from long range on Thursday hit a crucial three midway through the third to push Rytas into the lead for the first time since early in the game. Seibutis followed that up with a three and with the home side leading 49-44, Ostend were forced to call time out. It didn’t stop the push. Gecevicius went deep again and then Omar Cook just beat the shot clock to make it a double digit lead. Ostend got the final score of the quarter but still trailed 65-56.
Ryan Thompson, who had carried his side through the opening two rounds wasn’t getting it done. He needed support on offence, it wasn’t coming. Scoring was scrappy in the third but Seibutis stretched the lead to 11 with 7 minutes to play. Time was not on the Belgians’ side and Rytas were picking up plenty of second chance possessions to drain the clock. This may have been the most difficult of the home side’s three games but once they took the lead for good, the result looked assured…so naturally Ostend mounted a charge down the stretch to cut it to 70-66 with 2 minutes on the clock. Gecevicius came to the rescue again with a snatched interception and Juan Palacios iced the matter up the other end.
With the victory Lietuvos Rytas qualify for Group D and will host Panathinaikos on 17 October. Ostend, for all their heroics, leave Vilnius as they arrived. With a place in EuroCup.