Panathinaikos through to Euroleague’s next stage

Panathinaikos, the Euroleague’s only unbeaten team this season, became the 24-team competition’s first side to qualify for the next stage, reserved for 16 clubs, with a tightly contested 78-75 Group B win over Cibona in Zagreb last night. The Athenian club has won all nine of its group matches and is well clear of its nearest rival Maccabi, which went into its encounter – later last night at home against Partizan – with a 5-3 record. For its latest victory last night in Zagreb, Panathinaikos needed to rally past a stubborn home side. Cibona led at the end of the first three quarters with scores of 19-17, 41-35, and 53-51, before Panathinaikos established a six-point lead in the final quarter of play that was eventually narrowed down to three points for the final 78-75 score in favor of the Greek side. Michael Batiste led the victors with 18 points. Teammate Costas Tsartsaris scored 17 points with a 5-6 record from his two-point shots and a 2-4 performance from his three-point shots. Playing late Wednesday night to a packed home stadium in Thessaloniki, Aris went down narrowly to the reigning European champion CSKA Moscow with a 65-62 score. It was the first defeat at home for the Thessaloniki club in this season’s Euroleague. Aris, in fifth place, holds a two-game advantage over Fenerbahce, which went into the ninth round of Group C play later last night, away against Pau-Orthez. The top five teams from each of the competition’s eight-team groups qualify for the next stage along with the sixth-placed side with the best record. «I am very proud of my team because we struggled for the win until the final buzzer against the current Euroleague champion,» said Aris coach Andrea Mazzon. «CSKA killed us with the offensive rebounds, the most important part of the game, as they have strong big guys under the basket,» he added. Mazzon said he believed his side could reach the Euroleague’s next stage with the support of fans who have responded overwhelmingly to their team’s European campaign this season. «Let me repeat that we can qualify for the next round with such huge support at the Alexandreio [stadium],» said Mazzon. «Our fans are absolutely incredible.»

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