VILNIUS (Lithuania) - Rytas Vilnius swept SIG Strasbourg last season, but the French squad came back with a vengeance this season, picking up a 76-71 win on the road to start their Round of 16 campaign with a statement win.
Strasbourg won another single digit game, taking their record to 5-2 in such games in BCL this season, with a side note that one of the two defeats was actually a win, because a one-point defeat to Oostende meant they won the tiebreaker.
Turning point: SIG Strasbourg were in front for 35:57 of the game, but made their lives complicated when they allowed a 13-0 run by Rytas Vilnius early in the fourth quarter.
Teams traded blows the rest of the way, with Jean-Baptiste Maille playing the role of unlikely shooter for SIG Strasbourg, hitting three shots from deep on the night, his BCL career-high. Speedy Smith answered on the other end, getting three of his own with 5 steals also to Rytas point guard's name.
With the game tied at 71-all in the final minute, coach Lassi Tuovi turned to his game winner. John Roberson forced a switch and got his trademark side-step three-pointer to give SIG Strasbourg a 74-71 lead.
Rytas did get a perfect chance to tie it up once more, but Smith missed a wide open three-pointer inside the final ten seconds, allowing Ike Udanoh to seal the deal on fast break and set the final score.
Stats don't lie: Committing 16 turnovers against SIG Strasbourg is not that big of a number. But when 12 of those are also SIG Strasbourg steals, then you're in trouble because they can create a +13 advantage in points from turnovers, way too much for a close game like this one.
Bottom line: Rytas lost to Zalgiris over the weekend, also by five points, also at home, meaning they have suffered consecutive defeats for the first time since early October. They had been on a 19-1 record over the 20 games before last weekend.
Strasbourg are back where they want to be, and expect to be. They said it themselves, they want to repeat last season's success, and reaching the Final Four doesn't seem like a long shot with all these wins in close games.
"We just got to come out a little stronger. Be the aggressor, just start hitting people in the mouth first, that's all there is. We're just allowing teams to come here at us, and it's right on me. I got to be able to be the aggressor for my team, help us out during this process." - Speedy Smith, Rytas Vilnius
"As you can see, it was a very physical game. Sadly, opponents hit us first and just out-hustled us in the first half, 23 points from turnovers is how they were stealing the passing lines, they were blowing out the screens, and they were running in the open court. They were feeling comfortable. We forced them to shoot only two free throws all game long, it tells a lot about our smart fouls. In the second half we showed a reaction together with our fans, they were great, but in these kinds of games it's not enough to play 15 or 20 minutes. We must be better to enter the game." - Rytas Vilnius head coach Giedrius Zibenas.