Dimitris Itoudis’s squad ended Los Blancos’ perfect start to the 2023-24 EuroLeague season.
Fenerbahce refused to be beaten against Real Madrid
Only the most optimistic of Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul fans could have predicted that their team would defeat Real Madrid in Round 11 of the 2023-24 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season. Their team was on a four-game losing run and had a 6-5 record, while the visiting reigning champion was a perfect 10-0. No contest, right?
Fortunately, basketball is not played on a sheet of paper, although things did look bad early on. Dimitris Itoudis’s men got off to a horrible start against Real, with Facu Campazzo running rings around the Fenerbahce defense en route to 16 points as Los Blancos led 16-29 after 10 minutes. Then, everything changed.
A battle commenced
It is unclear just what Coach Itoudis said to his players at the end of that first quarter, but it couldn’t have been positive. As such, Fenerbahce came out for the second quarter reinvigorated and began to turn the game into a battle.
A team like Real would typically welcome that sort of fight, but it was the home side that managed to wrestle back momentum, even making it a one-possession game, 33-35. However, the defending champion put its foot on the gas to close the quarter, meaning it led 37-44 at halftime.
Nevertheless, that change in mindset by Fenerbahce proved to be the key factor in its turnaround. After the break, the Turkish team kept things close, but Real leaned on its array of options to keep Fenerbahce at arm’s length. If it wasn’t Campazzo, it was Sergio Llull. If it wasn’t Gaby Deck, it was Dzanan Musa. And so on and so forth.
It is worth noting that the only lead Fenerbahce had throughout the regulation 40 minutes came with 6:12 to go in the first quarter, as Marko Guduric’s three-pointer nudged the hosts in front, 11-10. Apart from that, the closest Itoudis’s squad could get was tying the score, which it finally did with Scottie Wilbekin’s miraculous triple with 10 seconds left to force overtime, 87-87.
Wilbekin, Guduric came to the fore
The only way that Fenerbahce could go to overtime in the first place was because of the way in which Wilbekin and Guduric helped the hosts get there. Guduric entered the fourth quarter with 7:44 left, before Wilbekin joined him on the court with 6:42 remaining. From there, they put their fingerprints on proceedings.
Wilbekin, in particular, began to take over. He converted a three-point play to give Fenerbahce hope, 67-78, before knocking down a three-pointer not long after to make it a 6-point game, 72-78. Real responded, but this time it was Guduric’s turn to step up, hitting a couple of free throws and also a triple of his own, 80-82. Wilbekin’s two-pointer with 1:45 on the clock made it 82-83, then he drained a three off an assist from Guduric to tie the game. In just 6:42, Wilbekin exploded for 11 points, with Guduric adding 5.
The duo continued their heroics in overtime, too, with Wilbekin responding to a Llull triple by scoring a mid-range jumper, 89-90. From there, Guduric nailed a three, 92-92, then knocked down a pair of crucial free throws with 6 seconds left, 98-99. But, there was still time for Guduric to make one last telling contribution.
From a Real inbounds situation on its own baseline, the ball was inbounded to Campazzo and he subsequently launched a pass up court after being smothered by Nick Calathes and Nigel Hayes-Davis. That pass, however, ended up in the hands of Guduric, who kept his cool and found Yam Madar.
Speaking of keeping a cool head, Madar drove to the basket and, under pressure from Llull, converted a high-arching layup off the glass to seal a 100-99 overtime win. That took Madar to a career-best 17 points on a night that will be remembered for years and years by Fenerbahce fans.
Itoudis: ‘We’re back!’
One of the reasons for the pessimism among some Fenerbahce fans was down to the team’s recent results in the EuroLeague. After all, Coach Itoudis’s men came into Thursday’s Round 11 contest on the back of a four-game losing run, which had seen it go from 5-1 to 5-5 and suffer a drop in the standings.
Fast-forward to how they must be feeling after this game and it paints a very different picture. Not only did Fenerbahce get back to winning ways for the first time since November 2, but it also welcomed back Dyshawn Pierre from injury.
The 30-year-old made his 100th appearance in the EuroLeague in Round 11 and was immediately placed in the lineup on his return, while Tarik Biberovic – another player coming back from injury – was available, but he didn’t step onto the court.
“That win is completely a players’ win and a fans’ win,” stated Coach Itoudis in the post-game flash interview. “We stayed altogether, we tried to rotate a lot of players. We were down many times 15, 11, 12, double digits… we never gave up.
“We’re coming from losses, but guess what? It’s not easy to bring people [back] from injuries, that’s why I’m saying the congratulations goes to them and the fans. They kept believing, they kept supporting the team. I believe this win will give us more confidence in what we’re doing. Our confidence was a little bit shaky; we had reasons why. But we’re back, we’re back.”
Only time will tell if this win ends up catapulting Fenerbahce up the standings, yet what it did show is that together as a team, the Turkish side is a strong contender to reach the Final Four in Berlin, Germany, next May. There’s plenty of basketball left until then, but Fenerbahce took a big step towards getting back on the right track on Thursday night.