By Eurohoops team/ email@example.com
Ante Zizic scored a career-high-tying 24 points by making almost all of his shots (11-13 2-pointers) and grabbed six rebounds to lead Anadolu Efes past Virtus Bologna 86 – 67. The defending back-to-back champions closed the double-game week with two-out-of-two and stay in a competitive position in the race for the EuroLeague playoffs.
Tibor Pleiss contributed 14 points to Efes‘ win while Elijah Bryant posted 13 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Rodrigue Beaubois had 10 points plus seven assists and Vasilije Micic dished out 11 assists to go with his seven points. Thanks to this victory, the Turkish side improved to 16-16, now having the same wins with their main playoff race rivals Baskonia and Zalgiris Kaunas (both at 16-15 with one game less) as two rounds are left in the regular season.
“24 [points] seems nice but we did a great team effort tonight,” Zizic said. “We stuck with the plan in the first and second half. We’re on a mission. We try to win every single game. Tonight it worked out great. I started very good and then my teammates and coaching staff saw that and kept running plays for me.”
Nico Mannion scored a EuroLeague career-high 17 points and delivered six assists for already-eliminated Virtus. Semi Ojeleye added 11 points for the Italian team that fell behind after a balanced first quarter (13-13).
Efes closed halftime up 36-27 and then opened the third period with a 10 – 2 run to establish a double-digit lead. Virtus was just overwhelmed while their opponents increased their advantage to 20+ when Zizic scored for 57 – 36. Nothing really changed in the rest of the game as Efes preserved a large margin and went ahead even by 26 points, 76 – 50 down the stretch.
A major but maybe late improvement
Efes had important defensive problems throughout the season but put on some strong effort in that department against both Milano and Virtus this week.
“We found the correct way to play basketball for our team but… I don’t know… maybe it’s too late. We’ll see,” said Efes coach Ergin Ataman and then joked about the regular-season sweep of his team over Italian teams. “This season we played four games against Italian teams and we won four. If we played the Italian League maybe we could win the championship but we play in EuroLeague. I don’t know if we’ll play in the playoffs. I know that all my friends who are coaches don’t want to play us but we have little chances.”
“Maybe all season we had a lot of pressure, especially in the start, to make the three-peat. From everybody, the fans, the club, the media. We lost six or seven games on the last ball. Three games in overtime. And this adds pressure, especially in the second half the season. Shane Larkin didn’t play for a large part, Vasilije Micic got injured. Maybe now our players are relaxed and we play correct basketball.”