In a time-honored rivalry that lived up to its tradition, Crvena Zvezda edged Partizan mt:s by 74-73 on Sunday to win the Euroleague Basketball Nike International Junior Classification Tournament Belgrade-JCT final on Sunday and continue trying to become European junior champion during Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four weekend in May. A mega-turnaround after halftime anchored by its stellar frontcourt pushed Zvezda to its second consecutive NIJT final round, but it was not easy. A steal and three-point try in the closing seconds missed, or else Partizan would have advanced. Zvezda rallied from a 37-49 deficit at halftime thanks to a 25-10 third-quarter run spearheaded by 2.10-meter Dusan Ristic. He topped the winners with team with 24 points on 12-for-14 two-point shooting, including the winning basket on a put-back with 34 seconds left. Equally compelling were the 18 rebounds and 8 blocks registered by his frontcourt partner, 2.04-meter Nikola Jankovic. Both were needed to off-set equally strong performances by Partizan due Nikola Radicevic and Nikola Majic. Radicevic amassed 31 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals, while Majic's double-double boasted 19 points and 16 rebounds. Zvezda joins three previous classification tournament winners – defending champion KK Zagreb of Croatia, as well as Lietuvos Rytas and Zalgiris of Lithuania – at the eight-team tournament to crown a European junior champion from May 10 to 13 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Zvezda took its first lead with a three-pointer from Brano Djukanovic and soon had its biggest first-half advantage at 16-9 as Nikola Cvorovic hit 3 of 4 free throws. However, Partizan stormed back to tie at 19-19 before Radicevic did the honors with 2 foul shots of giving his team a 22-23 edge after 10 minutes. Radicevic stayed hot with 2 more baskets to push Partizan's difference to 22-31 before Zvezda started its own comeback. Ognjen Dobric's triple ignited a 13-6 run that ended with Stanko Ilic's layup. Partizan reacted again with the 12 of the last 14 points before halftime, including back-to-back layups by Mladen Djordjevic in the final 5 seconds, to control the scoreboard by 37-49 at the break.
Zvezda came out of the locker room, battened down its defense and proceeded to steal back the scoreboard minute by minute. Dusan Rustic's second layup of the half lowered the difference to single digits, 43-51. His third, coming off an offensive rebound, completed a 14-2 run that tied it up 51-51. But he and his Zvezda teammates weren't done. His back-to-back baskets soon took the lead back for Zvezda at 57-55, while a three-pointer from Marko Tejic completed the third-quarter turnaroud with their team in front, 62-59. Zvezda kept the good times - and defense - rolling into the fourth quarter, holding Partizan to a single free throw before Tejic's layup made it 67-60 with 5 minutes to play. Zvezda's defense had held Partizan to 11 points in more than 15 minutes, but there was still plenty time left when Majic scored on a layup to make it 67-62 with 4:36 to play. After Ristic and Majic exchanged baskets, however, Brano Djukanovic buried what looked like a game-breaking triple at 72-65 with 2:33 to play. But Partizan wasn't going anywhere as Majic immediately made free throws, Nikola Jovanovic added a layup, Radicevic and Mihajilo Andric a free throw each make it 72-71 entering the final minute. Ristic rescued Zvezda with a put-back while Radicevic answered for Partizan for a 74-73 score with 25 seconds left. As Zvezda tried to run out the clock, Djordjevic stole with 12 seconds left, but his three-point try on the buzzer missed, leaving Partizan crushed as its arch-rival advanced to Final Four weekend in Istanbul to fight to become European junior champion.
Sunday, February 26, 2012