Aris TT Bank enjoyed a pleasant return to the European basketball elite and got its first Euroleague win in 14 years by downing Fenerbahce 66-58 in front of a wild crowd in Thessaloniki, Greece in Group C opener for both teams on Wednesday. Aris, which last played in the top European competition in 1992, used strong defense down the stretch and outrebounded Fenerbahce 47-35 to win. Mike Wilkinson led the winners with 16 points on 8-for-13 shooting and 8 rebounds. Alex Scales added 14 points, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf had 11 off the bench, while Jeremiah Massey grabbed 13 rebounds. Ibrahim Kutluay had 18 points for Fenerbahce, Kaspars Kambala added 12 while Mirsad Turkcan posted a double-double of 10 points and 14 rebounds. Abdul-Rauf erupted for 9 points during a game-breaking 13-1 second-quarter run that gave the hosts a 38-26 halftime lead. Will Solomon and Ira Clark heated up late in the third to bring Fenerbahce back within 4 points, but the visitors could get no closer as Aris had an answer for every Fenerbahce point in a low-scoring fourth quarter.
The visitors scored first on a Kambala lay up, while Jeremiah Massey copied him to open the scoring for the hosts. Giorgos Sigalas found the open man, Scales, who fired from long range to give Aris an early lead. Both teams went scoreless for 2 minutes, during which time Giorgios Kalaitzis caused Will Solomon to commit 2 fouls and find himself on the bench. Wilkinson and Kalaitzis continued to build the Aris lead, but Kutluay answered from the arc. Even though Aris was out-rebounding Fenerbahce, Turkcan capped a seven-point run that put the visitors on top 9-12. Aris's Terrel Castle was there to tie the game for the first time at 12-12. Fenerbahce coach Aydin Ors switched to zone defense, but Castle found Wilkinson for a pick-and-roll basket that lifted the hosts back in front. Kutlay had the last word, however, burying his second three-pointer to tie the score 17-17 after 10 minutes.
The scoring pace remained slow early in the second quarter as free throws by Kevin Fletcher and a close basket by Kambala were the only points scored in the first 2 minutes. Kalaitzis made a pair of free throws and Giannis Giannoulis added a put-back layup, but Fenerbahce still managed to tie the game on another layup by a very active Kambala. Aris found a go-to guy in Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who entered the game and had an immediate impact. Abdul-Rauf followed Wilkinson's layup with an off-balance jumper, then added a huge triple, another tough jumper and a fastbreak layup off a steal in a game-breaking 13-1 run, during which he had 9 points to give Aris a 36-24 lead. Free throws by Turkcan and a layup by Castle fixed the score at 38-26 as both teams headed to the locker rooms.
Kambala tried to change the picture after the break with back-to-back layups to bring Fenerbahce within 38-30. Scales hit a three-pointer from the right wing, but Fenerbahce was a different team now. Turkcan joined the three-point festival, as Scales hit another one from downtown, as did Kalaitzis and Solomon. The crowd was amazed as Kutluay also scored from beyond the arc, but Aris still led 49-39 midway through the third quarter. Wilkinson hit another jumper and Massey took over with an outstanding put-back dunk to make it a 14-point game, 53-39. A three-pointer by Damir Mrsic ignited a 0-10 run in which Solomon had 4 points, including a layup that brought the visitors back at 53-49. Massey shined again with a put-back layup, but Clark hit free throws to close the gap to 55-51 after three quarters.
Aris improved its defense in the final period, while baskets in the paint from Wilkinson and Scales gave the hosts a 59-51 lead. But Fenerbahce wasn't done, as Kutluay buried his fourth three-pointer and Turkcan scored around the basket to get the guests within 60-56 midway through the final period. Massey stepped up with a second-chance basket, which Kambala erased with free throws. Fenerbahce failed to score on three straight trips down the court as the pressure mounted. However the visitors' defense kept them in the game. Both teams went scoreless for more than two minutes before Abdul-Rauf stepped up with a five-meter jumper and then fed Wilkinson for a basket that gave Aris a 66-58 lead with under two minutes to go. Fenerbahce called timeout, but it was already too late. The guests could not find the way to the basket and went scoreless in the final three minutes, allowing Aris to have a pleasant Euroleague return.