By Eurohoops Team/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Mario Hezonja in his first Turkish Airlines EuroLeague appearance in nearly six years made a positive impact on Panathinaikos OPAP, but his former team, FC Barcelona grabbed the victory, 85-77, on the road Tuesday.
Nikola Mirotic fired in 13 out of his game-high 25 points in the first period to set the pace of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season Round 27 tilt. The visitors allowed the first bucket but retained the lead the rest of the way.
“We knew they were going to come very motivated, especially after bringing back Mario Hezonja from the NBA, but we started well,” noted Mirotic following his season-high in points, “We played good defense from the beginning and we were very motivated too after we lost our last game at home against ASVEL, so it’s a good win for us.”
Nick Calathes, in his first visit to OAKA after the conclusion of his second stint with the Greens, got nine points, four assists, four rebounds, and two steals. His side improved to 19-8 with its seventh W in the last eight games across all competitions.
“It is always a team effort. I think we needed to be a little bit more focused, especially on the defensive end,” said Cory Higgins off his 16-point contribution, “We could have had a better game, but overall we played good enough for the 40 minutes to come out with the victory.”
“I think it was not pretty for us being the third game in five days, we had a tough one against ASVEL, then we beat a good Joventut Badalona on the road, so I wouldn’t say we were fresh, especially in our minds,” confessed Barcelona head coach and former Panathinaikos player, Sarunas Jasikevicius, “But we took the win and we can go home to rest, and that’s the most important.”
Hezonja, 26, made his way back to Europe’s premier club continental competition up against his previous team and scored a team-high 21 points. He is certainly still adjusting to his new surroundings at the team coached by Oded Kattash but resurfaced in style.
Ben Bentil registered 14 points. Konstantinos Mitoglou got 13 points riding past the 500-point mark in EuroLeague as Panathinaikos dropped to 9-16 widening the distance from the playoffs zone. Both Ioannis Papapetrou and Nemanja Nedovic were out.
“We came out from the locker room with a fighting spirit. We lost the first half because of the lack of aggressiveness, we used only 2 fouls in the first 15 minutes, and that’s something not right coming to play against a good team like Barcelona,” summed up Kattash, “In the second half, I liked the effort of the players. Offensively it was not our biggest game, we turned the ball over a lot, but we had our chances.”
Up next for the Spanish powerhouse, TD Systems Baskonia at home on Friday. An away match versus FC Bayern Munich follows for the Greek club.