BELGRADE (Reuters) - Six-time Euroleague champions Panathinaikos reached the competition’s second group stage with a game to spare and were joined by Russians Khimki and Croatian upstarts Cedevita Zagreb after thrilling action on Friday.
Holders Real Madrid, the winners of a record nine titles, kept alive their hopes of progressing as did Maccabi Tel Aviv, who have won Europe’s premier basketball club competition five times.
Panathinaikos went through with an 82-51 home rout of Poles Stelmet Zielona Gora on the back of 18 points from guard Nick Calathes and 14 from forward James Gist.
Cedevita reached the Top 16, featuring two pools of eight teams, for the first time despite an 85-82 defeat at home by Emporio Armani Milan, who needed to win by 10 points to stay in contention.
Center Miro Bilan poured in 23 points and forward Marko Arapovic chipped in with 16 for Cedevita, who rallied in the second half after trailing by 14 points at the interval.
Khimki booked their berth after a 15-0 run in the fourth quarter wiped out a 66-63 deficit at Strasbourg and earned them a 78-69 victory.
Guard Alexey Shved was instrumental for the visitors, racking up 23 points as the expensively assembled side from Moscow’s outskirts forced their rivals into submission.
“Everybody played hard and in the last five minutes we made some tough shots,” former NBA campaigner Shved told Euroleague television.
Champions Real finally looked the part after struggling in a fiercely competitive group, brushing aside Bayern Munich 86-67 away with a superb second-half performance.
The Spanish giants outscored their German rivals 50-29 after the break and now need to beat Strasbourg in their final game at home to avoid an embarrassing early exit.
“This is the most competitive group of all four as everybody has beaten everybody else at least once and we knew before the competition started that it would be difficult,” Real coach Pablo Laso said.
”We haven’t played well for most of the campaign but have improved in the last month and now we are in with a good chance of progressing.
“We did a great defensive job throughout the game tonight but what swung it our way was good offense in the second half.”
Bayern now face a dogfight in the cauldron of Red Star Belgrade’s Pionir Arena next Friday, with the winners guaranteed a Top 16 ticket.
Maccabi also kept their campaign alive with an 85-65 home defeat of already qualified Germans Bamberg, but still face a daunting task when they visit Darussafaka Istnabul.
The Turks stunned Maccabi 84-73 in the reverse fixture, meaning that the Israelis have to overhaul that deficit if they are to progress with a better head-to-head record.
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes