By George Georgakopoulos
Depleted Panathinaikos practically secured qualification to the top 16 of the Euroleague with a dramatic as well as brave 71-69 victory over Mapooro Cantu in Italy on Friday.
The Greens had key players Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Andy Panko missing in this crucial encounter, but also had Mike Bramos on fire as he made seven out of nine three-pointers and collected nine rebounds.
The game was poor in quality but was closely fought throughout, since there was little separating the two teams on the night. The superior experience and quality of Panathinaikos was offset by the Greek side's 22 turnovers, compared with just nine by Cantu.
The Greens had a positive start to the game, leading 19-15 after the first period, but the hosts – who were boosted by a vocal capacity crowd – levelled the score at 34-34 by halftime.
A buzzer-beating three-pointer by Bramos gave Panathinaikos a four-point lead at the end of the third period (54-50), only for Cantu to start the last period with nine unanswered points.
However, Bramos kept Panathinaikos in the game with his consecutive three-pointers and turned a 66-60 deficit into a 71-68 last-minute lead that Cantu could not overturn.
The players of coach Argyris Pesoulakis were also dominant in rebounds, collecting 39 against the hosts' 22, to secure their fourth win in seven group games. Bramos scored 21 points, followed by Dimitris Diamantidis with 15.
The match also marked the Euroleague debut for new Panathinaikos signing Marcus Banks, who ended the game with nine points.