By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Six-times Euroleague winners Panathinaikos were among the few big guns who could celebrate on Friday as some of their peers were stung by debutants and unheralded rivals in the third round of the preliminary group stage.
The Greek champions were on the verge of defeat at Red Star Belgrade but 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 and 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 and 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 give the Serbian side a 62-48 lead in the final quarter but the Greek side came storming back to force overtime and ultimately silence the raucous 8,000 home crowd.
"We played better defense in the second half after a pedestrian opening period and the pieces only came together after we started to be more aggressive and put Red Star out of their rhythm," Maciulis told Reuters.
"It was a privilege to play in this atmosphere and we could see once again how much people in Serbia love basketball and their teams," added the Lithuanian sharpshooter, who chipped in with 16 points.
American center Mike Batiste added: "We kept coming back and 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 fast and furious approach, garnished with a barrage of fast breaks and 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 and Emir Preldzic hit 13 as nine of Fenerbahce's 12 players scored.
The impressive effort delighted Fenerbahce coach Zeljko Obradovic and 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 great job and played a great game," Obradovic told the competition's official website (www.euroleague.net).
"This is a very important 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 and 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 and 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)