By: Rob Scott / @robscott33

(Intro by the Editor)

The Euroleague’s third try at the qualifying rounds was a huge success, providing some pretty high level basketball and producing the league’s 23rd and 24th teams. Spirou’s win in fornt of the Belgian faithful was no huge surprise, however Galatasaray stunned Lietuvos Rytas into submission at home 71-63, grabbing a third Euroleague spot for the city of Istanbil (Anadolu Efes and Fenerbahçe Ülker are the others).

That means no Tyrese Rice, who had looked better than anyone the past few days, and no Jonas Valanciunas, whose progress ELA was hoping to track this season against the big boys. But Galatasaray didn’t just fall into this slot; they earned it. The Turks got double figures from Josh Shipp, Luksa Andric and grizzled vet Jaka Lakovic and Preston Shumpert all while bottling up Rice (only 8 points on the evening).

Rob Scott was sitting in press row in Charleroi, Belgium taking in all the action. Here’s what went down.

Spirou Basket 79 – 53 CEZ Nymburk

This wasn’t the game that many people expected, and in the end, not the classic that many had hoped for, although the home crowd lapped it up and didn’t really care who they beat or how they did it. Euroleague basketball will return to the Spiroudome and this will be a tough gym to come out of with a win, as Real Madrid found out last year.

Spirou beating Berlin at home wasn’t a humungous upset, but barely anyone predicted Nymburk blowing Khimki off the floor. They used up a hell of a lot of energy in withstanding Khimki’s second half comeback, and it showed tonight as they ran out of steam in the first half. Tired legs couldn’t elevate quite as high, shots that had rippled through the net last night were catching nothing but iron this time.

Spirou came out the brighter and went on a 10-2 run to start the game, but after a helpful TV timeout, Nymburk pushed back with and 11-2 tear of their own to take over the lead. Spirou went away from the pick and roll and pick and pop game that the injured Dwayne Broyles had been such a big part of, and Nymburk’s solid but assertive defense was frustrating Spirou, as Nymburk forced eight turnovers in the first quarter alone.

A  tight first stanza ended on a Caleb Green buzzer beating three as the American forward carried through his form of only hitting shots of magnified importance, and the home team led 15-13.  The boost that gave the home crowd inspired Charleroi to maintain their charge in the second and a 14-2 run over most of the period put them well in control with Nymburk heads dropping. Pavel Pumprla, whose 20 points against Khimki was so impressive, didn’t bother the scoresheet in the first half, taking only three shots and grabbing one rebound.  He finished with 6 points in a disappointing performance and his frustration showed in the second half.

Spirou coach Gio Bozzi had bemoaned the referees’ insistence on calling a tight game yesterday, and his concerns were bang on the mark as some questionable off the ball fouls disrupted the flow of the game, but momentum was definitely with Charleroi as Mallet hit two three pointers in the second and Spirou went to the locker rooms up 13.

Nymburk gave up 4 easy points to begin the third. They switched to a kind of a match up zone but Chris Hill hit a 3 from beyond NBA range to put his team up 20, and the fruit Charleroi were picking was very low hanging indeed.

Spirou really limited harmful turnovers after the first quarter, where they did turn the ball over it didn’t lead to fastbreak opportunities, which Bozzi pointed to last night as key to playing effective 5 man defense.

Nymburk missed its first 12  three pointers, which was really indicative of tired legs. Mike Lenzly finally drained one from downtown near the end of the third quarter, but by then the damage had been done. It was obvious by the middle of the second  that if Nymburk were going to win the game, they were going to have to do it with defense, they just couldn’t get into any kind of offensive rhythm. Andre Riddick had five blocks and altered more shots, as Nymburk couldn’t finish in the block or off the dribble.

Playing three games in three days caught up with Tre Simmons and his chronic knee problems, and Pavel Pumprla went from 20 points vs Khimki to only 6 tonight, again looking tired. The single elimination format certainly makes for more entertaining games for the neutral, but Spirou benefited from home advantage, which became especially clear by the final day. They have to play the same number of games as everyone else, but the comforts of home must be huge in such a pressured environment.

Early in the fourth, Demond Mallet darted in with a drive and dish for Riddick, after Pumplra had stolen ball from Hill and risen up for a dunk that was more like slamming a table in frustration than an expression of defiance. Mallet hit another three to put Charleroi up 61-38 and the home crowd were as loud as they’d ever been.

Thereafter the game played out like it does in most blowouts, with nobody really paying much attention and just waiting for the confirmation of the final buzzer – celebration for Spirou, merciful relief for Nymburk. They have the Eurocup and the new challenge of the VTB League to look forward to, and if their small squad can cope with that punishing schedule, it’ll be another huge step forward for  them and Czech basketball in general.

Spirou now face an almighty challenge against the likes of Real Madrid, Anadalou Efes and Maccabi Tel Aviv, but they at least won’t go out lying down. Coach Bozzi said he hoped the gym would full “not only with fans of Spirou Charleroi, but also fans of Belgium”. Much like Nymburk, Spirou are representing a smaller basketball country, and trying to raise the profile of that whole country by taking on Europe’s elite.

Looking to the immediate future, they have a big decision to make. Spirou GM Jacques Stas confirmed that he will meet with Mickael Gelabele on Wednesday to discuss his future, and if they can keep the French star, currently out injured, they will give some of Europe’s an elite all they can handle, especially at home.

MVP of the Day: Chris Hill – the Spirou guard came off the bench with his normal defensive intensity but also led all scorers with 21 and grabbed 12 rebounds with it. Demond Mallet had 18 including four triples, and Andre Riddick had 5 blocks, but Hill keyed Spirou’s first of many big runs.