EA7 Milan soars to fourth straight win
EA7 Armani Milan´s fairytale Euroleague Top 16 continued on Friday night as the Italian club defeated Laboral Kutxa Vitoria 65-83 on the road.
Milan´s progress through the Last 16 phase has been nothing short of sensational and the largely unfavoured club has managed to disrupt some of Europe´s biggest teams. The club now sits on the cusp of qualification to the playoffs after downing a Vitoria team that is all but out of the competition. The success gives EA7 command of second place in Group E with a 7-3 record, with only the all-conquering Barcelona above.
The fact the Italians are now almost guaranteed a berth in the next stage of the Euroleague means one of the continent’s giants will fall out of the competition. There is a heated battle for third and fourth in Group E between Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, Fenerbahce, and Unicaja Malaga, but only two teams can progress.
EA7 Milan vs. Laboral Kutxa Vitoria, 65-83
Daniel Hackett opened the scoring with a triple and was followed by Samardo Samuels with a two-pointer that gave the visitors an early 0-5 lead. Milan held Vitoria at bay for the opening two minutes but the hosts finally got underway when Fernando San Emeterio hit from downtown. However, the Italian club was in an early groove and despite Andres Nocioni´s two free throws for Vitoria, managed to carve a 5-13 lead. Keith Langford scored 5 consecutive as EA7 Milan put together a 0-11 run that secured a 5-20 lead midway through the first. The Spanish home team recovered slightly with Tibor Pleiss and Leo Mainoldi driving the team in the next minutes, but Milan was in control at the end of the first with the score at 19-25.
Vitoria closed the gap at the start of the second thanks to Adam Hanga with a jumper and two free throws (23-25). Mainoldi nailed one from beyond the arc and gave the Spanish club its first advantage of the night at 26-25, while also capping an inspired 15-0 run for the hosts. Milan finally found the net again and the teams traded for the next two minutes until the board read 30-31 in EA7´s favor. Samuels slammed hard to kick-start another bout of Milan dominance as the Italian club improved to 32-38 through Hackett and Curtis Jerrells. Pleiss was proving the player who was keeping Kutxa in the game and he scored to keep the team in touch. Alessandro Gentile scored five on the bounce with a triple and a dunk, while he later hit another from distance to push Milan to a commanding 36-50 halftime lead.
Samuels scored and then missed with his free throws to open the second half before Fabien Causeur saw his triple matched by Langford (39-54). Vitoria managed to stem the Milan attack and go to man Pleiss became dominant for the hosts, tipping in before sinking free throws and then sending the crowd into delirium with two consecutive big-time dunks. The German was in record form and had powered an 8-0 run with his own scoring to put the game within reach at 47-54. Samuels again split is free throws before Jerrells and Nocioni traded from beyond the semi-circle, with Causer hitting a big three to keep the score close at 52-58. Jerrells and Langford combined to break a stern Laboral defense to make it a 10 point game at 52-62. The visitors held and extended that margin by the end of the third, with 12 points the difference and the score set at 55-67.
In many ways, it had been a big effort from Kutxa during the first 30 minutes, with the team fighting hard against a well oiled EA7 Milan. It became apparent in the final stanza that the energy was gone and Milan could build a clearer lead. Pleiss continued to be the highlight for the hosts, but Milan´s consistency throughout the roster proved too much down the stretch as the Italian club run out comfortable winners.
Milan had several double-digit scorers with Jerrells leading the way with 17 points. Following Jerrells were Samardo Samuels with 15 points, Alessandro Gentile with 13, and Keith Langford with 12.
Vitoria relied heavily on the fantastic exploits of Pleiss as he helped himself to a Euroleague career high of 30 points and 13 rebounds in a display that will put him in contention for Play of the Week.
Other games on the night
Barcelona vs. Olympiacos, 70-58
Anadolu Efes vs. Panathinaikos, 60-65 (OT)
Lokomotiv Kuban vs. Galatasaray, 66-67
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