TALLINN – The wait is finally over in Tallinn, as TTU registered its first win of the season in Triobet BBL, defeating the visiting Jurmala/Fenikss 79-75 in overtime at the TTU Sports Hall on Tuesday.
The lone win doesn’t do much to help TTU climb out of the bottom of Group B, but it certainly gives the Estonian side some hope. Meanwhile, the visitors from Jurmala dropped to a 4-7 record.
An excellent start of the game saw the hosts go up 25-18 after the first quarter of play, with the same seven-point game remaining in place at the halftime break, with TTU up 37-30.
After the interval, Jurmala/Fenikss made a comeback and took a 51-50 lead before the start of the final period. However, after a close battle in the fourth quarter, nothing separated the sides.
Although Casey Roberts opened the scoring for Jurmala/Fenikss in the extra period, it was TTU who shot ahead after scoring six points to run away with what was the first win of the season for them.
Toomas Raadik had a team-high 18 points for the winners, the team’s captain Kiur Akenparg collected 16 points, while Kristjan Kitsing added 14 points and eight rebounds.
For Jurmala/Fenikss, Edgars Jeromanovs scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds, Andrew Smith scored 16 points and notched down an amazing 25 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to come away with a win.
With 25 rebounds, Smith repeated Tanoka Beard's league record, which he set representing Zalgiris in 2005 versus Lietuvos Rytas.
KEDAINIAI – After starting the year on the wrong foot in Riga, the struggles continued for Nevezis, who suffered a 69-57 loss against AVIS Rapla at home in Kedainiai on Tuesday evening.
It was the fourth consecutive defeat for the Lithuanian side, who dropped to a 2-8 record in Group A, while the visitors from Rapla improved to a 6-2 mark following their fourth win in a row.
After opening the game with a strong first quarter, Nevezis broke away to an early 16-8 lead, but saw the gap quickly disappear, as AVIS Rapla responded with an even better second period, which allowed the visitors to go up 32-29 at the halftime interval.
The guests stayed in front after the break, increasing the gap to 52-44 heading into the final frame of the game. Nevezis managed to get as close as four points in the fourth quarter, but the Estonians did not panic and sealed the win with solid play down the stretch.
Sven Kaldre was the leading scorer for the winners with 17 points, William Artino added 15 points and six rebounds, while Kristjan Voolaid finished the game with 11 points and nine boards.
Meanwhile, Oleksandr Kolchenko had 18 points and seven rebounds for Nevezis. No other players reached double figures, with Grant Johnson coming closest with nine points, nine rebounds and three steals in his account.
There were six games in the opening week of 2016 in Triobet BBL, as action resumed after the Christmas break with plenty of drama. Leaders fell, newcomers made game-changing debuts, while veterans turned back the clock and gave the new generation some lessons in the game of basketball.
Let’s take a look back at the outstanding performances of the week in another volume of Triobet BBL Weekly Review!
DEBUT. When Dominykas Milka joined TLU Kalev, not many could have expected him to be as spectacularly good as he was in his debut against one of Group A leaders Valmiera/ORDO. The 23-year-old Lithuanian big man, who arrived to the Estonian capital from Hiroshima Dragonflies in Japan, scored 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds, as TLU Kalev defeated Valmiera/ORDO 80-79 to mark the start of 2016 with one of the bigger upsets of the season. Having improved to a 5-5 record, the Estonian side looks good going forward after the addition of Milka.
SHORTHANDED. There were only eight players at the disposal of Vytautas coach Virginijus Seskus in the first game of the new year and the team’s starting point guard Sarunas Vasiliauskas played only six minutes, but it didn’t prevent the Lithuanian side from keeping their unbeaten run going by topping Barsy 80-73 at home in Prienai. Vytautas Sulskis and Vilmantas Dilys took on the burden of carrying the team in such circumstances and had 24 points each in a win.
TURNING BACK THE CLOCK. Group A leaders Lietkabelis had to work hard for the road win against Port of Parnu after arriving to Estonia without three key players in Arturas Valeika, Arnas Labuckas and Mile Ilic. After a second-half spurt, the Lithuanians did triumph 97-92 and much of the laurels belong to the 37-year-old Croatian center Jurica Zuza who had his best game of the season with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
MVP. Before the game against Barsy, Vytautas forward Laimonas Kisielius was presented with the December MVP award. BBL.net sat down with Kisielius to talk about being back in Prienai, the team’s title aspirations in Triobet BBL and the desire to fight for medals in Lithuania, as well as the difficulties that come along with having a relatively thin roster. You can read the full interview here.
ROSTER MOVES. There were some roster moves across quite a few Triobet BBL squads. In addition to the previously mentioned move that brought Dominykas Milka to TLU Kalev, Valmiera/ORDO added Lauris Blaus, Barons/LDz got Kristaps Gluditis, Edvinas Seskus signed with Vytautas, former Ukrainian national team player Oleksandr Kolchenko inked a contract with Nevezis while Port of Parnu brought in Mark Dorris to compensate for the departure of its leader Andrew Warren, who left to Kosovo. Later, Lietkabelis announced the signing of former Baltic League standout Brandis Raley Ross. Domagoj Bubalo left AVIS Rapla to join Siauliai in Lithuania, while Barons/LDz said goodbye to three American players.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK. Kazakh side Barsy has not had the best of luck in 2016, picking up two losses in a row to start the year. After falling short 80-73 against Prienai, the team from Atyrau suffered a 94-78 loss at the hands of Jekabpils a couple of days later, despite Ryan Cook scoring 28 points, grabbing 10 boards and registering three steals. The 25-year-old American guard had the best performance of the week with an index rating of 37.
In Vytautas' win against Barsy, Vytautas Sulskis also had 37 ranking points having collected 24 points and 14 rebounds.
JEKABPILS – It was the sort of start to 2016 that Jekabpils was looking for in Triobet BBL, as the Latvian side brushed aside Barsy for a 94-78 victory at the Jekabpils Sporta Nams on Sunday afternoon.
The first meeting between the sides back in November also ended in a win for the Latvian side, who now have a 5-4 record in Group B, while Barsy have won three and lost six games.
Jekabpils rode on the back of stellar play by Tyler Larson, who had 27 points and 10 rebounds, and led from start to finish after breaking away early with a strong first quarter.
Although Barsy did not allow the deficit to get out of hand, the hosts were very much the dominant side on the court, dictating the run of play. Leading 67-60 before the final frame, Jekabpils sealed the win with a convincing fourth quarter.
Lithuanian big man Ronaldas Rutkauskas had a huge double-double of 17 points and 15 rebounds for the winners, as Sandis Silavs and Modestas Kumpys chipped in with 16 and 15 points respectively.
For Barsy, the efforts of Ryan Cook and Michael Burwell were not enough. Cook finished the game as the leading scorer with 28 points and 10 rebounds to his name, while Burwell added 13 points and 11 rebounds.
With the Christmas break already in the books, action returned not only in Triobet BBL. The four teams representing the Baltics in the FIBA Europe Cup also resumed play, but did so with mixed success, as Ventspils and Juventus got their first wins of the Round of 32, while Pieno Zvaigzdes and TU/Rock lost again.
Ventspils 97-80 Antwerp Giants
Ventspils ran away to a double-digit lead after the opening quarter against Antwerp Giants and never looked back, going on to take a convincing 97-80 victory in Group P action. The Latvian team, like the remaining three teams in the group, have a 1-1 record.
Kristaps Janicenoks collected 21 points, Martins Gulbis scored 17 and grabbed five rebounds, while Zanis Peiners finished the game with 16 points and five assists.
TU/Rock 83-87 Foxtown Cantu
Despite hanging close for nearly 40 minutes, TU/Rock could not hold out and eventually suffered an 87-83 loss at the hands of Foxtown Cantu. Following this loss, the Estonians are now 0-2 in Group R.
Lithuanian guard Evaldas Zabas had an excellent evening offensively, scoring a game-high 26 points, but it wasn’t enough. Janar Talts scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, while Gert Dorbek chipped in with 13 points and five assists.
Pieno Zvaigzdes 90-95 Cibona
Pieno Zvaigzdes wasted a fourth-quarter lead and fell short to Cibona down the stretch, losing 90-95 in Pasvalys. It was the second loss in a row for the Lithuanian side in Group S.
Derrick Low had a team-high 18 points and six assists for Pieno Zvaigzdes, Steponas Babrauskas scored 14 points, while Dovydas Redikas added 13.
Juventus 91-67 Bakken Bears
There was little intrigue in Utena, as Juventus steamrolled the visiting Bakken Bears 91-67 to get their win count in Group T under way. Led by Laurynas Samenas, who had 23 points with 5-of-7 shooting from three-point range.
Five more players in the Lithuanian team reached double figures. Edgaras Zelionis and Egidijus Dimsa scored 12 apiece, Spencer Butterfield and Rolandas Alijevas collected 11 points each, while Arminas Urbutis collected 10.
PRIENAI – After a down year for basketball in Prienai last season, the team has undergone a true revival, which coincides with the return of coach Virginijus Seskus and some former players.
Although the name of the team changed, Laimonas Kisielius, one of a number of ex-Prienai players to sign with Vytautas, says the unique atmosphere is the same. And the results would attest to that.
Boasting an impressive 9-0 record, the Lithuanian side is the only undefeated team in Triobet BBL and the 30-year-old forward has been a key cog in the successful start of the season for the club, earning the December MVP award.
In the two games he played over the month, the 30-year-old forward averaged 20.5 points, 5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2 steals and was among the most efficient players in the league, making 69% and 53.8% of his shots from two-point range and from beyond the arc respectively.
Kisielius spoke to BBL.net about being back in Prienai, the team’s title aspirations in Triobet BBL and the desire to fight for medals in Lithuania, as well as the difficulties that come along with having a relatively thin roster.
First of all, congratulations on picking up BBL Player of the Month honors for December. In terms of BBL, everything seems to be going smoothly – the team is winning you are playing well. How would you evaluate the first part of the season in the Baltic League?
I think it’s going pretty well so far, as long as we keep winning games. As far as the Player of the Month award goes, it was only for the two games we played in December, so I don’t take it as a very good achievement. But the team is winning and we are playing well, that’s all that matters.
After starting the season red-hot in the domestic league, Vytautas finished the year with a five-game losing streak in LKL. What were the main reasons for this poor stretch of play, in your mind, and how does it affect you and your confidence going forward?
I think the biggest reason is our health. Our roster is only eight-players deep and when we lose somebody to an injury, it’s kind of hard to play without certain guys. We played a few games without our main center, we played some games without our main point guard. You know, it’s tough when the rotation is only six or seven guys. As long as we stay healthy, I think right now we’re starting to click again after all these losses. I think we’re going to be fine.
There are a lot of old faces from the 2013-14 season, when you last played in Prienai, in the team this season. Has the club kept its charm and uniquely free flowing atmosphere? Are there any noticeable differences?
The main difference is the players on the team, but as you say, there are a few guys who are the same from two years ago. We still have good chemistry. It’s all Lithuanians on the team, so we don’t have any communication issues with each other, most of us live together over here. There are different personalities on the team than two years ago, but it’s mostly the same atmosphere.
Has the stint with Lietuvos Rytas at all changed how coach Seskus approaches things?
He seems a little bit more confident, but other than that I don’t think there are big changes in him. I guess not.
Vytautas has the best record in the BBL right now, what are your goals for the competition?
I’m not going to deny that our goal is to win it all. As I said before, if we stay healthy, we do have a good chance. I mean, our goal is to win. It’s as simple as that.
Some stronger teams from FIBA Europe Cup could join from the BBL Play-Offs. Vytautas had also received an invitation to play in the tournament, but the situation evolved unfavorably. When you go to play against teams like Juventus, Pieno Zvaigzdes or Siauliai, does that add extra motivation to prove that you are better?
Of course. It’s good that those teams join, if they do join. That just increases the level of the competition. We’re going to be playing these teams either in LKL or BBL either way. It increases the level and we enjoy the opportunity to beat them.
On paper, Vytautas has assembled, perhaps not a very deep, but a really strong-looking roster. You have defeated Neptunas this season, but Zalgiris and Lietuvos Rytas proved tougher to handle. As the season goes along, do you think you can challenge these teams for the medals in Lithuania?
Yeah, we just need to play our game. As long as we stay together on the floor. We do have to get lucky a few games, but I see why we can’t compete with them.
To finish on a broader stroke, how was 2015 for you on a personal level and what would you like for the year ahead to bring?
It was good, I had a good season in Pasvalys. We played well there, we were unfortunate that two of our good guys got lost to injury [in the bronze-medal series in LKL]. I guess this year is going well so far somewhat and hopefully we can continue this streak. Other than that, I got engaged. So that’s pretty cool [smiles], I guess, keep looking to 2016!
PRIENAI – Virginijus Seskus had only eight players at his disposal, but Vytautas still overpowered Barsy, taking a 80-73 victory at home in Prienai on Thursday in a Group B clash.
The Lithuanian side remains the only undefeated team in the competition after improving to a squeaky clean 9-0 record, while Barsy dropped to 3-5.
Vytautas got in the driver’s seat early on after a 22-14 start of the game and although their lead never reached double figures in the first half, they were very much in control.
Leading 41-33 at the halftime break, the hosts allowed Barsy to get a couple of baskets to open the third period, but then went on an 11-0 run to increase the gap to 52-37.
With five minutes remaining, the same 15-point margin separated the sides, but a 13-3 spurt by the Kazakhs had cut it to five points with a minute left. However, Vytautas held on with Paulius Ivanauskas ending sealing the win with a jumper on the other end.
Vytautas Sulskis had a huge double-double of 24 points and 14 rebounds for the hosts, Vilmantas Dilys also added 24 points, while December MVP Laimonas Kisielius finished the game with 10 points and six boards.
For Barsy, Michael Burwell scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds, while Ryan Cook and Mikhail Yevstigneev added 18 and 16 points respectively in the loss.
RIGA – Barons/LDz ended a four-game losing streak in Triobet BBL, defeating the visiting Nevezis 96-75 in the first game after the Christmas break for both sides on Wednesday in the Latvian capital.
The hosts improved to a 2-7 record and climbed out of the bottom of Group A, while Nevezis dropped to 3-7.
After the first quarter of play, the teams were in a deadlock at 25-25, but the hosts looked better in the second period, breaking away to a 50-41 halftime lead.
The downslide continued in the third period for Nevezis, with the Lithuanian side failing to contain Barons/LDz’s long-range shooting, with the gap separating the sides growing to 22 points in the quarter.
There was no way back for the team from Kedainiai, who were forced to concede an unexpectedly large defeat on the road. Barons/LDz finished the game with 17-of-35 made shots from three-point land.
Roberts Freimanis had 23 points and 10 rebounds for Barons/LDz, Kristaps Gluditis scored 21 points, while Salvis Metra added 15 points.
For Nevezis, Taylor King and Vaidotas Volkus scored 20 points apiece. King also added 13 rebounds, but finished the game with five fouls. Darius Gvezdauskas chipped in with 16 points.
PARNU – Despite playing without a number of key first team players, Lietkabelis managed to overcome a poor first half and started the year with a 97-92 victory on the road against Port of Parnu on Wednesday.
The Lithuanian side improved to a 9-1 record in Group A and no longer share the top spot with Valmiera/ORDO who lost in Tallinn a day earlier. Port of Parnu, now 1-8, are last in the group after another close defeat.
The hosts got off to a tremendous start, establishing a 26-18 lead after the opening period. Mostly due to excellent play by newcomer Mark Dorris, the Parnu club managed to increase the gap to 52-43 by the halftime break.
However, Lietkabelis resumed play with newfound intensity after the break and the deficit disappeared after a 23-7 run in the third quarter. Although Port of Parnu had even gotten in front on a couple occasions in the final period, but the Lithuanians proved to be better down the stretch.
Valdas Vasylius led the winners with a game-high 26 points, Jurica Zuza had his best game of the season with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Akselis Vairogs got on the floor for the first time after an injury and collected 16 points.
Meanwhile, Dorris was the best player for Port of Parnu with 21 points, five boards and five assists, as Paulius Petrilevicius scored 19 points and grabbed nine boards.
RAKVERE – Tarvas brushed away the rust after the Christmas break in Triobet BBL, starting 2016 with an easy 84-73 home victory against the league outsiders TTU on Wednesday.
The victory saw Tarvas improve to a 5-4 record in Group B, while the visiting TTU are still winless in ten games this season.
It seemed that the hosts were ready to run away with the game already in the opening quarter, as Andres Sober’s side went up 30-20. However, TTU fought back in the second period and cut the deficit to 48-46 at the halftime break.
However, what little momentum TTU had managed to accumulate in the second period, was washed away after losing the third period 22-9, reducing the final frame to a mere formality.
Reinis Strupovics led Tarvas in scoring with 21 points after going 4-of-9 from three-point range, while Roberts Stumbris and David Haughton added 12 and 11 points respectively for the victors.
Meanwhile, Kristjan Kitsing dropped a game-high 22 points, with Corey Raley-Ross adding 11 points and nine rebounds in only 19 minutes of action.