Aris clinches Euroleague spot
Aris basketball club earned a place in next season’s premier European club-level competition, following a 15-year absence, with a dramatic 63-59 away win over Maroussi in Athens last night. The victory gave the Thessaloniki club a 3-2 win in a best-of-five series for third place in the domestic standings and a Euroleague place next season. League champion Panathinaikos and runner-up Olympiakos had already qualified for the European competition as the country’s top two clubs. It was a disappointing end to the season for Maroussi, which had ended in third place following home-and-away play ahead of the playoff encounters. Ironically Maroussi is coached by Panayiotis Yiannakis, a former star player at Aris during the club’s golden period between the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the appeal of the Thessaloniki team’s big games in Europe was big enough to bring the country to a virtual standstill. Aris made it to three consecutive Final Four tournaments between 1988 and 1990 with Yiannakis and the team’s other major star, Nick Galis, at the helm, but title success eluded the club on all three occasions. Aris, instrumental in popularizing basketball in Greece, has not played in premier European club-level competition since those days, but the Thessaloniki club has since managed to win three European titles in less prestigious competitions, the Cup Winners Cup in 1993, the Korac Cup in 1997, and the FIBA Champions Cup in 2003. Meanwhile, last night both sides performed strongly in defense, prompting numerous errors in attack, as well as wayward shooting. Highlighting this, in the first 10 minutes of play, Maroussi was on target for just five of 13 two-point shots, while Aris managed one of four two-pointers and three of nine three-pointers. Maroussi built a promising lead early on, 26-17, but the visiting team did not take long to respond. A 10-0 run put Aris ahead 27-26 with Ryan Stack and Corey Brewer as the key contributors to this scoring spree. Despite the bombardment, the home team remained composed, continued to pressure in defense, and moved performed prudently up front for a five-point lead at halftime, 37-32. The second half proved a tense struggle throughout with neither side able to break away. With 50 seconds of play remaining, Ryan Stack struck decisively with a crucial three-point shot to put Aris ahead 60-59 that led to the final 63-59 score following a free throw from Mike Wilkinson and two more from Giorgos Sigalas.