Competitive basketball returned to Europe on Tuesday and the beginning was…a touch disappointing. Strasbourg just plain crushed VEF Riga. The Latvian side did well to keep this one marginally competitive at the break but once the second half started, it was pretty clear Vincent Collet’s side was going to cruise. It was a rout and a pretty ugly one at that. Strasbourg had oodles of experience and talent and it was painfully obvious that this was a mis-match. Ali Traoré was a perfect 5 from 5 from the field as he racked up 15 points and 6 rebounds for Strasbourg in an 82-53 win in Oostende.
The hosts were the fairytale story of last year’s qualifying round. With home advantage this time around, the odds of another Cinderella run looked to be in their favour. Asvel Basket however came to play.
This game had running, lots of running, especially in the first half as a track meet saw the sides go in all-square 43-43 at the break. The third quarter however saw the French side establish some breathing room. Offensively they didn’t let up and they found ways to frustrate Telenet Ostend for the first time in the game. It briefly looked like Asvel would find a way to kill the game off before the final frame but the home side rallied a touch to only trail by 6 with 10 minutes to play.
What was staggering while watching online was how little the crowd was into this. It may be early in the season but the prize at stake in this competition is significant, a place in Euroleague and (at worst) a guarantee that they would match their performance of making the last 32 in EuroCup last season. That’s nothing to sniff at but the atmosphere came across like it was a regular pre-season clash.
The fans finally got into it in the final frame and their players worked hard to reward them. Mateusz Ponitka tried to carry them back into contention and Ostend repeatedly forced a one-possession game but Asvel’s offence wasn’t letting up. Every time the Belgian champions looked to have them rattled, Asvel stepped up and eventually put the pressure back on their hosts. An 86-77 final reflected a competitive game where the smarter team came out on top. Ponitka finished with 17 points, 3 steals, and 2 assists in the losing effort. For Asvel, Amara Sy had 23 points and 10 boards while Edwin Jackson had 20 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Strasbourg and Asvel will meet on Thursday for a place in Friday’s final.