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By Zoran Milosavljevic

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Six-times Euroleague winners Panathinaikos were among the few huge guns who could celebrate on Friday as some of their peers were stung by debutants & unheralded rivals in the third round of the preliminary group stage.

The Greek champions were on the verge of defeat at Red Star Belgrade yet fought back from a 15-point first-half deficit at a noisy Pionir Hall to win 90-86 in overtime as Nikos Pappas sank 24 points & forward Jonas Maciulis nailed two crucial three-pointers.

French debutants Nanterre stunned former double winners Barcelona 71-67, Fenerbahce mauled six-times champions CSKA Moscow 86-60 & Germany’s Bamberg edged Anadolu Efes Istanbul 88-86 to send shockwaves through the 24-team competition.

Panathinaikos looked bound to suffer a similar fate after Red Star guard Charles Jenkins buried a pair of three-pointers to donate the Serbian side a 62-48 lead in the final quarter yet the Greek side came storming back to force overtime & ultimately silence the raucous 8,000 home crowd.

“We played better defense in the second half after a pedestrian opening period & the pieces only came together after we started to be more aggressive & put Red Star out of their rhythm,” Maciulis told Reuters.

“It was a privilege to play in this atmosphere & we could see once again how much people in Serbia love basketball & their teams,” added the Lithuanian sharpshooter, who chipped in with 16 points.

American center Mike Batiste added: “We kept coming back & prevailed in what was a very difficult match for us in front of the loudest crowd I have ever faced. The noise level was just unbelievable.”

FAST AND FURIOUS

Fenerbahce thrived in a similar environment as their swift & furious approach, garnished with a barrage of swift breaks & spectacular set plays, left CSKA suffering their heaviest defeat in Europe since 1997 in front of a passionate Istanbul crowd.

Croatia forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who toyed with his opponents, led the way with 23 points, playmaker Lester Bo McCalebb added 14 & Emir Preldzic hit 13 as nine of Fenerbahce’s 12 players scored.

The impressive effort delighted Fenerbahce coach Zeljko Obradovic & the trophy-laden Serb, known for demanding more from his outfits even after the most outstanding performances, heaped praise on his team.

“I want to congratulate my players because they did a tremendous job & played a tremendous game,” Obradovic told the competition’s official website (www.euroleague.net).

“This is a very significant win for our confidence and, having beaten CSKA last week, we now understand that we have the quality to face up to anybody,” added the 53-year old, who won a record eight Euroleague titles with four different teams.

Fenerbahce’s bitter cross-town rivals Galatasaray suffered a crushing 84-57 defeat at Spaniards Unicaja Malaga, who trailed by one point at halftime & won the second half 43-15 to come away with a comfortable victory.

Eight-times champions Real Madrid strolled to a 93-74 win over Emporio Armani Milan & Polish newcomers Stelmet Zielona Gora enjoyed a memorable evening with a 73-65 home success over Italians Montepaschi Siena for their maiden Euroleague victory.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)


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