By Johnny Askounis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milano returned to the Final Four after 29 years. The semifinal against FC Barcelona did not produce a win for the Italian outlet, but the team led by Ettore Messina certainly proved itself among the top Turkish Airlines EuroLeague clubs.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” the Italian mastermind said after Friday’s match, “I think it’s been an incredible run, regardless of the last game. We will have played 41 games in the end. I think we have competed against everybody. Even the only team that beat us twice, tonight we showed that we had a chance.”
“I think we have a good chance to get better,” he mentioned replying to a question on Olimpia Milano’s future, “It will be an interesting summer, as it is for everybody. Every team will try to get better, either by improving the players with proper practices or by adding more weapons to the team. We will try our best.”
“I am confident that we will continue to grow,” he added, “Hopefully we will back to the playoffs next year and try again to make it to the Final Four. It’s not going to be easy. Beyond the budgets, there are a lot of things that are based on the values and vision of the organization. I think, in that regard, we are in a very good place.”
His side led by eight points nearing the ending of the third quarter. It was an extremely close affair all the way until the game-winning jumper hit by Cory Higgins with 0.8 seconds left.
“We are disappointed,” confessed Malcolm Delaney, “We did everything we can to win the game, we made a couple of mistakes and they just made a big shot. It wasn’t bad defense, it was just better offense. Of course, we are disappointed, but we can’t hold our heads. We fought. They are the best team in EuroLeague and we did everything we could to get a win. We just wanted to play aggressively. They are the best defensive team in the EuroLeague, we tried to take advantage of some things. I think we kind of went away a little bit from what was working. Nothing went wrong. It was just basketball. Everybody made runs and we played until the last 10 seconds and they made a better shot.”
Kevin Punter poured a game-high 23 points after getting fired up by Messina in the second half. Vladimir Micov had 14 points and Shavon Shields finished with 13 points. Sergio Rodriguez went for 11 points in the loss.
“We didn’t play well in the first half, but came ready in the second half,” El Chacho pointed out, “We had ups and downs during the game, as usual, and in the end, it went down to one possession and Cory made a shot. It is what it takes to be a champion and to get to the final and we lost today. We are working well and the season was good, but at this point, everybody wanted to play the final. Everybody wants to try to win. In the end, these games are played until the end and you cannot relax. They hit the last shot and we didn’t do well in the last possessions and that’s it. We have to learn from this and carry on.”
“Small things decided the game. Execution down the stretch. We made mistakes and with a team like this, you can’t make those types of mistakes. That ended up costing us,” added Kyle Hines, “First half we gave up 51 points and our defense was basically non-existent. We were able to switch that. But we didn’t make enough plays. The last play was a scramble play. It was a tough shot. Cory is a great player, he is an experienced player. He has been hitting shots like that for a long time. We came down, Kevin Punter got a good look at the basket and Cory came down and made the shot. As I said, Cory is a great player and this is the way it goes sometimes.”