VILNIUS (Euroleague) - Lietuvos Rytas are back in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague.
The Lithuanian giants followed up Qualifying Round wins over VEF Riga and Ewe Baskets Oldenburg with a 75-66 triumph over Telenet Ostend on Friday night.
Martynas Gecevicius hit a go-ahead three-pointer - one of his four three-balls on the night - early in the second half and finished with a team-high 19 points for the winners.
Dirk Bauermann's team prevailed, despite trailing Ostend by as many as 14 points.
"The tournament was difficult," Bauermann said.
"I want to thank the fans for creating a great atmosphere."
There was an estimated crowd of 6,850 in the Siemens Arena.
Nothing was easy about this triumph.
The Belgian club made a lot of shots in the first half, with Pierre Antoine Gillet particularly effective from behind the arc.
Gillet drilled four three-pointers as Dario Gjerga's side went in front by double digits.
Bauermann tried to calm down his players.
"It was important to get the players to handle the ball better, and to play with more confidence," he said.
The hosts started to play better on defense trimmed the deficit to 43-41 by half-time.
Still on top 44-43 early in the third quarter, Ostend allowed Gecevicius, who had nailed eight of 10 three-balls in the previous night's victory over Ewe Baskets, to launch a shots from the arc.
He connected to trigger an 8-0 run that put the hosts in front to stay.
Bauermann's side stretched its advantage to 13 but the Belgian club refused to go away.
It clawed the deficit back to 70-66 after a dunk by Andrija Stipanovic with less than two minutes to go.
Ostend twice had opportunities to draw closer but Mateusz Ponitka and Gillet turned the ball over.
A Juan Palacios three-point play pushed the lead back to seven and Lietuvos Rytas held on for the victory which has put them into the Euroleague regular season.
Omar Cook was outstanding for Lietuvos Rytas.
The point guard finished with seven points, five assists and four steals.
"He is an experienced, solid player," Bauermann said.
"Omar's leadership was very important. He hit some tough shots. Over the past two years, he played for some teams where he only had to pass the ball. Now he needs to shoot in Vilnius."
Cook has a lot of Euroleague seasons under his belt with his previous teams like Unicaja Malaga, Valencia Basket and Olimpia Milano.
He has also played for Montenegro's national team.
"I'm very excited," he said.
"It's one part of our goal that we've accomplished. The Euroleague is the top level in Europe. I'm happy.
"Three games in four days - we played against a (Ostend) team that played hard and we won, so we deserve it."