Lietuvos Rytas and BC Telenet Ostend secured their places in the Euroleague qualifying round final with victories today. The home side rode a monster day from Martynas Gecevicius to their win over EWE Oldenburg while Ostend delivered a heap of drama before finally edging Banvit Bandirma 82-80.
Ostend did everything in their power to undo the good work they put in at the start of the fourth quarter but still found a way to beat Banvit. The Belgian champions were involved in a tit-for-tat contest through three quarters in Thursday’s second semi-final but appeared to have made a break for home when they moved into a 79-71 lead on the back of some impressive three-point shooting. Banvit, who made their own share of poor decisions in the final frame, found a way to get back and kept pushing it into a one-possession situation. Ryan Thompson led Ostend in scoring with 19 points while Andrija Stipanovic grabbed 9 boards and Niels Marnegrave had 5 assists.
Context is really important here. Ostend arrived in Vilnius following defeat in the Belgian Supercup and head coach Josip Gjergja had pleaded with fans for patience. Then they ride into Lithuania and take out the pre-tournament favourites Khimki Moscow Region in the first round and have now followed it up by booking a place in the final. That surely makes this tournament a success but those two wins will be for nothing if they miss out on Friday.
The challenge ahead of them is big. Lietuvos Rytas won Thursday’s first semi-final 99-87 over EWE Baskets Oldenburg. The Germans kept in touch through the first three quarters, thanks in large part to Chris Kramer’s 24 points and 4 rebounds but there was no stopping Gecevicius for the home team. Gecevicius had 34 points 4 rebounds and 2 assists and was ably assisted by Omar Cook (14 points, 3 assists) and Juan Palacios (10 points, 5 rebounds). In the final frame it was the strength in depth of the Vilnius team that proved telling as they had the options to double their 6-point advantage down the stretch and send Oldenburg to EuroCup.
Friday’s final will see the home side as big favourites and they know the price of failure is steep. Lose at home and it’s off to EuroCup. All of the pressure and expectation is on Dirk Bauermann’s charges. That will play nicely into Ostend’s hands who will surely relish a third straight game as underdogs. Only one team can make the main draw. In 24 hours, we’ll know the 24th and final team in Euroleague for 2013-14.