By Johnny Askounis/ email@example.com
A lasting Basketball Champions League original, SIG Strasbourg arguably reached its peak to date in FIBA’s premier European club competition sealing its Final 8 ticket on Wednesday.
“It’s a dream for any team to play in this kind of tournament,” said Finnish head coach Lassi Tuovi in the post-game press conference following the clinching win versus Turk Telekom, “I am so happy with this team moving forward and having the opportunity to play in the Final 8.”
It was a new beginning for the French outlet in early 2020. Tuovi’s appointment coincided with major roster adjustments aiming to regain success in the Champions League and the domestic level as well. Earning a spot in the Final 8 above teams carrying experienced players the likes of AEK and Turk Telekom was a big feat surpassing initial expectations, especially after dropping the first three Round of 16 Group K games.
“I am a dreamer. I dream of being in the final stages through difficult situations,” proudly pointed out Tuovi, “I had imagined us being in the Final 8. But I am surprised how the bond in our team became so much stronger after the 0-3 start. It’s an even better feeling because we beat a very good team tonight.”
Bonzie Colson’s game-high 23 points inflicted most of the damage on the guests. The former Notre Dame standout went over 20 points for the fifth time this season. Raymar Morgan, Daryl Macon, and C.J. Harris are the only other player with five 20+ showings.
“As a young coach, he went through a lot of ups and downs with us,” noted Colson replying to a Eurohoops inquiry regarding Tuovi’s dreams, “We all had dreamed to win these games and advance. It all starts with the confidence the coach gives us.”
“Brandon Jefferson was great with his threes, our captain DeAndre Lansdowne, Ishmail Wainwright, everyone helped in what was definitely a team effort. We have a lot of guys to score 20 plus points. We give ourselves confidence,” he added commenting on his contribution and the team effort sealing the Final 8 ticket.
Wednesday’s meeting at Strasbourg’s Rhenus Sport was going back and forth with the opposing sides exchanging the lead thirteen times up to the fourth quarter. The hosts outscored their opponents, 23-12, in the last ten minutes to build a double-digit lead and secure the last available Final 8 spot.
“I don’t really focus on the media. We focused on ourselves getting better,” Colson told Eurohoops walking through the exciting ride from three losses in a row to the Final 8 berth, “We dug ourselves in a 0-3 hole and then took it a game at a time. And we achieved our goal. We worked hard to get to the next round.”
“It’s just excitement. We are moving on to the next round. We really deserved it,” said Ike Udanoh after registering seven points, 11 rebounds, and four assists over 22 minutes. “We played an extremely good game tonight. We stuck to our game plan. Nick Johnson and Kyle Wiltjer are very good scorers, but we held them in check when it mattered most and we got the win.”
Another feel-good story generated within the BCL structure. Strasbourg was stopped at the playoffs qualifiers in the inaugural season and made it to the 2017-18 quarterfinals. However, a 14-game Regular Season painted the entire picture of the 2018-19 and 2019-20 campaigns. It’s back to business with the Final 8 around the corner for the French club, but not Turk Telekom.
“It’s a very tough loss for us,” admitted head coach, Burak Goren, “We played in the previous Final 8. This was the deciding game. Strasbourg, in the bottom half of the Playoffs stage, did a very good job.”
In the winner-takes-all environment of the Round of 16 Gameday 6 fixture, Strasbourg upped its defense down the stretch. Scoring 19 points off second-chance opportunities was another key.
“More than anything, it was the desire. We wanted to win more,” explained Udanoh, “I wasn’t tired because I was focused on helping my team win. I can probably say the same for the rest of the players on the court. When it’s time to win, tired just goes out the window.”
The Final 8 scheduled to stretch from May 5 to May 9 follows for Strasbourg and the former member of the Milwaukee Bucks. A draw planned to be held next week will determine the pairings.
“It’s important to play my game and not overthink things,” replied Colson to a question on the upcoming BCL challenge, “I give anything I have each second. I am excited to play the game I love for the team, my family, and the city. We are all looking forward to the Final 8.”
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League