If it's true that you have to lose some big games before you win them – because the experience pays off later – ace guard Mike James and AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan might one day look back on their Round 12 defeat at the hands of host Fenerbahce Istanbul as a net plus.
Fenerbahce has been a nearly immovable force at home in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague – 5-0 this season and 54-12 there since the 2014-15 – but a career night by James was almost enough for Milan to win in the Turkish lion's den.
James tallied 20 of his career-high 31 points in the fourth quarter before Milan lost 92-85. The visitors had trailed 70-58 before James hit 4 triples in less than 5 minutes, the last of which trimmed the gap to 81-79 with 2 minutes left. Equally clutch Marko Guduric then nailed back-to-back threes for Fenerbahce, but James still did not give up, adding 4 more points in the final minute.
Fenerbahce entered the game with the league's best defense overall, led by the second-best effectiveness against opposing three-point shooters. Not only did Milan score 10 points higher than Fenerbahce's defensive average, but James matched the highest point total by an opponent since Zeljko Obradovic started coaching the Istanbul club in 2013. (The other 31-point scorer was injured Milan guard Nemanja Nedovic, who did it for Unicaja Malaga in the final regular season game last season.)
"He scored in the fourth quarter some very difficult shots," Obradovic said of James on Thursday. "We tried to play our best defense against him. We tried a lot of players against him. He really scored some tough shots."
Milan, which has a 6-6 record and is 3-3 on the road, ultimately could not snap its eight-game losing streak to Fenerbahce, but it wasn't for lack of trying, as James proved in the toughest of venues.