PAOK - Partizan: 74-76
William Hatcher turned on the style with a game-high 27 points and Partizan Belgrade edged PAOK in their Basketball Champions League Play-Off Qualifier first leg in Greece on Wednesday night.
The Serbian outfit went in front by as many as 13 points but weren't able to step on the accelerator and PAOK battled back to ensure they have every chance of advancing with a strong performance in the second leg in Belgrade on 22 February.
With the fans from both clubs creating a terrific atmosphere, Hatcher took center stage, hitting 10 of his 17 shots from the floor.
But Hatcher's team, with veteran Novica Velickovic in street clothes and unavailable, could end up regretting not slamming the door shut on PAOK.
Three minutes into the second half and the Partizan advantage was 44-34 but Zanis Peiners, Thaddus McFadden, Jordan Sibert and Keith Clanton were extremely disruptive on defense and began to find a way back into the game for the home side. Latvia international Peiners capped a 5-0 run with a basket to make it 44-39.
After Hatcher replied with a 3-pointer, Peiners scored again to trigger another 5-0 run. PAOK eventually took the lead 53-51 when when Sibert buried a 3-pointer.
After Stefan Bircevic pulled Partizan level, McFadden struck with a 3-pointer to make it 56-53 at the end of the third quarter.
Uros Lukovic entered the game in the fourth quarter and was a force on both ends of the floor for Partizan and Hatcher continued to pour in the points as they reclaimed the lead. PAOK never stopped niping at their heels, though, and ended up closing the gap at the very end to just two points when Sibert hit his second 3-pointer of the game.
The hosts got 20 points from McFadden, 18 from Sibert and solid all-around efforts from Zanis Peiners and Keith Clanton.
PAOK's season-long struggles at the free-throw line continued with the team making just 11 of their 20 attempts.