AEK beat Murcia 77-75 in a dramatic Basketball Champions League semifinal in Athens on Friday and will contest Sunday’s final with favorite Monaco.
The Final Four of FIBA’s answer to the Euroleague brought some 18,000 fans to the Olympic Sports Hall in Athens, most of them AEK supporters who saw their team try to repeat the feat of 1968 when it won Greece’s first ever European cup in any team sport, basketball’s Cup Winners Cup.
Fifty years after that final against Slavia Prague, Greek Cup winner AEK will get the chance to honor that anniversary facing the might of the French league leader in another final, thanks to a hard-fought win over its Spanish rival.
Murcia braved the adverse atmosphere and pushed AEK all the way, making the most of its dominance in rebounds (it collected 44 against AEK’s 32).
AEK reacted to a 17-11 lead by Murcia with a spectacular 26-5 partial score to advance by 15 (37-22), but the Spanish team bounced back with a partial 12-1, for a 40-34 half-time score in AEK’s favor.
Murcia kept up the pressure and even went ahead (52-51), but its foul problems and the energy AEK got from its galvanizing fans restored AEK’s lead to nine points (70-61).
Vitor Benite tried to turn things around in the final quarter for Murcia that cut the distance from 76-68 to 76-75, but the Athens team held on for the win that has sent it to Sunday’s final.
Manny Harris was the top scorer for the Yellows with 20 points, but the sensible game by veteran Vassilis Xanthopoulos was precious in marshaling AEK.
In the other semifinal Monaco beat Ludwigsburg 87-65. After overcoming a poor first quarter, Monaco strolled to an easy win, particularly in the second half, showing why it is billed as the strongest of the four in the tournament.