Two days after EA7 Emporio Armani Milan suffered a devastating 51-80 home loss to Anadolu Efes Istanbul which led to stinging criticism from head coach Ettore Messina, the Italian team fell to its sixth straight defeat by succumbing 72-82 to the Turkish city’s other team, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul.
Although it was another loss for Messina’s men, the sensations generated by the game were totally different and gave a glimmer of hope for the future as Milan kept fighting until the end against the league leader.
Indeed, Milan’s start to the game was spectacular, forcing 6 turnovers in the opening 5 minutes and regularly sinking shots at the other end to claim a 35-19 lead midway through the second quarter. That was the scoreline when Nicolo Melli finished a thrilling fastbreak with a fierce slam dunk, getting the home fans on their feet and generating hope that maybe, just maybe, Milan had turned the corner.
But that Melli dunk actually proved to be a turning point for Fenerbahce, which started to compete at a much higher level and quickly gave the encounter a very different feel as three-pointers from Metecan Birsen and Nick Calathes helped to halve the 16-point deficit in a hurry. By halftime, Milan had only scored 2 more points while 5 points from Scottie Wilbekin pulled Fenerbahce back to 37-32, and already the writing was on the wall.
The second half started with another charge from Fenerbahce, tying the game at 37-37 after a 2-18 run, and you could almost see the self-belief draining away from the hosts. That didn’t mean there was a lack of effort, and Milan worked tirelessly to stay in the game. But Messina’s men could never replicate the level they found in the opening 15 minutes, and the game was decided long before the final buzzer sounded on a 72-82 road win.
Fenerbahce’s key performer was Nigel Hayes-Davis, with 22 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 blocked shot for a personal best PIR of 31, and he offered a succinct summary of the game’s development as he noted: “We didn’t respond to the intensity they had in the first half. Their coach made some comments about them needing to fight harder, play harder, win games and be tougher.
“Coach [Itoudis] told us they would come out extremely aggressive in the first half and they did that. We were down almost 20, it felt like the crowd was into the game, and at half-time coach told us the only way we can have a chance is to match that intensity and try to exceed it, and we did a good job in the second half.”
Milan’s fans certainly didn’t feel their team’s defeat was due to a lack of effort, and Coach Messina acknowledged their backing after the game by saying: “I want to thank our fans because they created a great atmosphere of support in a moment when nobody is happy, everybody is upset. Nobody enjoys losing but they were extremely supportive at the beginning of the game, during the game and at the end of the game."
The fact that the majority of home supporters stayed behind to applaud their players despite seeing them suffer a sixth straight loss says a lot: Milan wasn’t able to claim a victory, but it was able to compete against the league leader, and that was enough to give encouragement that maybe better results will soon follow.