By Nicholas Beck
Ludwigsburg. Branislav Ignjatovic took his job seriously. Literally to the last second. That was the last minute on Wednesday night when the coach of MLP Academics Heidelberg again took Albert Kuppe and Kyan Anderson into play. Final instructions in a game that had been decided a long time ago. 20.5 seconds were on the clock, Anthony Watkins at the free throw line. Then the playing time ran out – of course without Kuppe and Anderson being able to intervene again.
At 20.58 it was over.
In Ludwigsburg. With the first Premier League season of the Academics. And after 265 matches as head coach in Heidelberg also for Ignjatovic. The 147th victory was denied to the Serbs. With 83:98 (41:46), “Academician” finally lost to the fourth in the table, the MHP giants.
“I would be lying if I said it was a game like any other,” Ignjatovic did not make a murder hole out of his heart afterwards. “I just shed a tear or two in the locker room.”
Not because his team suffered their seventh defeat in a row. Or because the climber eventually slipped down to 15th place. But, as the 55-year-old said, “because it feels like I’m leaving my home.”
In front of 2548 spectators in the overtaking match, which was also the last match before the start of the playoffs, it became clear that Ludwigsburg is the individually better team. But also that the Academics are breathless after being secured early in the league.
Ignjatovci’s protégés got off to a flying start. Unimpressed by Ludwigsburg’s Justin Simon, who before the match was named the best defender this season, and his giant colleagues, the academics threw the balls through the trap with a high percentage in the first quarter and led 24:17 after ten minutes.
But then Heidelberg’s glory was over. Suddenly, only the hosts were playing. Almost without resistance, Radebaugh, Woodward and Co. went. to the basket. The three also fell. Six minutes and a race of 5:24 later, the Academics’ lead of seven points was now twelve points behind (29: 41/17. Minute).
Ignjatovic made a lively substitution – and his protégés found a way back in the match. Leon Friederici shortened the halftime siren to 41:46. “For us, it’s about taking the competition seriously,” manager Matthias Lautenschläger said in the TV break interview. After all, home rights were still at stake for Ludwigsburg in the first round of the playoffs. “We are counting on something,” said Lautenschläger, hoping to continue “playing free” against the weary hosts who suffered during the Champions League at the weekend.
Above all, Max Ugrai seemed to understand the manager. Eight of the first ten Heidelberg points after the break marked the 26-year-old power forward, who ended up putting his BBL career best with 22 points.
Alone: His colleagues did not get much more. Kelvin Martin prepared himself for the impending defeat with three successful layups in a row. But in the opening minutes of the last episode, the Giants were already almost 20 points ahead.
“I have to do the few layups with my size,” Ugrai remained modest as usual: “Of course, I’m personally happy to be able to end the season with something like that.”
More important than his strong end – or the Heidelberg defeat – was Ugrai’s coach this time. “It was a great honor to play for him. Now we have to celebrate Frenki a little more for what he did in Heidelberg.”
Ludwigsburg: Radebaugh 30 (4 threes), Woodard 18 (4), Darden 13 (2), Bartolo 9 (2), Wohlfarth-Bottermann 8, Cotton 8, Hulls 7 (1), Duke 3, Simon 2, Ja. Patrick, Yo. Patrick.
Heidelberg: Ugrai 22 (1), Lowery 11, Martin 11, Anderson 11 (2), Geist 9 (2), Chapman 7, Ely 7 (1), Friederici 5 (1), Würzner, Heyden, Kuppe, Watkins.
Shorthand: 10: 9 (5.), 13:18 (8.), 17:24 (1st quarter), 29:26 (13.), 41:27 (17.), 46:41 (halftime), 53: 49 (23rd), 63:54 (28th), 75:62 (3rd quarter), 91:70 (34th), 96:79 (38th), 98:83 (final result).