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Play-Off Qualifiers report: McFadden fires PAOK past Velickovic-led Partizan


A Novica Velickovic-led Partizan nearly battled all the way back from a 24-point deficit in the second leg of their Play-Off Qualifier at home to PAOK on Wednesday but the Greek club held on for an 82-78 victory.

Trailing by two points after the opening leg two weeks ago in Thessaloniki, PAOK jumped on the back of a red-hot 3-point shooter Thaddus McFadden to claim a famous road triumph and a spot in the Round of 16. McFadden finished with 26 points to lead PAOK, who will now face Iberostar Tenerife.

McFadden, a signing just past the mid-point of the Regular Season, drilled 7 of 10 shots from behind the arc and also handed out 7 assists.

Partizan were nowhere near full strength. Coach Aleksandar Dzikic, point guard William Hatcher, marksman Vanja Marinkovic and big man Milos Koprivica all felt unwell and did not make the trip to the Pionir arena. Hatcher had poured in a game-high 27 points in the first leg. 

After a bright start by PAOK, Partizan got to grips with the game in the first half and reeled off 16 unanswered points to lead the second leg by six points and eight on aggregate.

PAOK finished the last five minutes of the second quarter strong, however, outscoring Partizan 20-4 for a 47-32 advantage. Their aggregate lead at the break was 13 points and it grew to 22 with 3:31 remaining in the third quarter after a basket by Jordan Sibert.

Partizan refused to go away and instead charged back into contention, with Velickovic's put-back at the end of the third frame cutting the second leg score to 64-50.

Velickovic, who was hurt and unable to play in the first leg and didn't look to be 100 percent healthy on Wednesday, played inspirational basketball in every single one of the nearly 22 minutes of action he was used by stand-in coach Nenad Canak.

The veteran had 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals before fouling out with 23 seconds remaining. His drive and basket with 25 seconds to go had cut PAOK's lead to 82-78 and trimmed the aggregate deficit to just two points.

PAOK coach Soulis Markopoulos called timeout and when play resumed, Velickovic used his fifth foul on Evangelos Margaritis and had to leave the court.

Margaritis missed both free-throws and Partizan got the ball back with a chance to force overtime or to win on aggregate with a 3-ball but they failed to get a shot off. Instead PAOK forced a turnover in the waning seconds and time expired.


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