Pressure now on Nanterre, says Elan Chalon coach Choulet
CHALON-SUR-SAONE (FIBA Europe Cup) – It wasn't the offensive bonanza that many had hoped for and predicted, but the first leg of the FIBA Europe Cup gold-medal duel between Elan Chalon and Nanterre certainly didn't lack in drama.
The visitors had silenced the packed Colisee with an emphatic first-half performance, but the Chalon-sur-Saone side came alive after the halftime break and orchestrated a clean escape, bringing the tug-of-war into its starting positions.
In spite of looking down and out at one point, Jean-Denys Choulet's side are very much up and in after a tremendous second-half fightback that saw the Chalon-sur-Saone club erase a double-digit deficit after trailing 41-26 heading into the half-time interval.
"After how the game went, especially the first half, this is almost a win for us, because we were so down and not playing well, compared to Nanterre. Then we came back from nowhere to 58-58," Choulet told the media in the post-game press conference.
"Now the pressure is on Nanterre; we just need to beat them by one point. No need to calculate anything."
The Elan Chalon play-caller hailed his side's much-improved defense after intermission for the 15-point swing that put the hosts right back in the tie after it was seemingly slipping away from their hands in the first two quarters.
"If you had asked me to sign this result at halftime, I would have done it in a heartbeat," Choulet revealed, saying that all the pressure will now be on their opponents to get a result at home. "Now the pressure is on Nanterre; we just need to beat them by one point. No need to calculate anything."
However, nothing from what his counterpart Pascal Donnadieau said after the game seemed to suggest disappointment in the result or a sense of an increased psychological burden on his shoulders before the return leg.
"It was such a great fight between the two teams, especially defensively. We put all our energy on the defensive end, which cost us at times some focus on offense," he said. "The chances are now tied at 50-50 for the return game in Nanterre. It will be a do-or-die one-game Final."
Little did anyone expect that the first leg of the Final between two elite offensive teams will be all about defense. But then again, as the saying goes, defense wins championships.
"It was a tough game. I think we had a better start, played tough on defense and had some good ball movement. After that, they came out hard and played great defense in the second half, so we lost our offense, lost our ball movement. That was the key of the game," said Nanterre's marksman Hugo Invernizzi, who scored all of his 12 points before the halftime interval, all from beyond the arc.
"We will now go to Nanterre to win the game. Just to win. There is no thought about losing the game. We are really motivated to win it."
Similar thoughts were echoed by Elan Chalon guard Gedeon Pitard, who played just 11 minutes, but was singled out by coach Choulet for his excellent work on the defensive end.
"As the coach said, we did a great job in the second half. We met good offense with great defense. We came out aggressively and that helped us to get back in the game. We will now go to Nanterre to win the game. Just to win. There is no thought about losing the game. We are really motivated to win it," said Pitard.
With the first game ending level, there might have too much regard paid to the cornerstone French principles of liberte, egalite, fraternite in the first leg of the all-French title battle.
At least the part about equality. That will have to go, even if it takes an overtime or two.
The other two? That might depend on whether the teams bring their tough and gritty defense from the first leg to the Palais des Sports Maurice Thorez.