In an overtime thriller in the Serbian capital, LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne pulled out its first road win of the season without having held a single lead for 42 minutes and 32 seconds. ASVEL trailed essentially the entire night, tied the game just seven times during in the first four quarters, but made key stops when it mattered most to snatch a 72-74 win.
In the middle of it all was ASVEL's 25-year old center Tonye Jekiri, who had one of the finest single-game performances by any big man in recent seasons, having amassed career highs of 18 points and 19 rebounds. It matched the second-highest rebound total of the decade, behind only 21 boards by Donatas Motiejunas in December of 2011.
Jekiri has been no stranger to big rebounding numbers. The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague rookie entered last night's game having posted at least 7 rebounds in each game this season, and having reached double digits in rebounding in five contests. He had 10 rebounds against Zvezda before halftime, and reached his fifth double-double of the season before the end of the third quarter.
He helped ASVEL capture 46 rebounds, the second most by the club in a EuroLeague game this century, and outrebound Zvezda 46-37 on the night.
But as much of a rebounding monster as Jekiri has turned into, the 2.12-meter center also made two key defensive plays of the game – on the perimeter.
At the end of regulation, with the score 65-65 and Zvezda with possession in the final 15.8 seconds to win it, Jekiri switched after Zvezda's pick-and-roll and was left one-on-one with Dejan Davidovac. Jekiri perfectly defended Davidovac's drive to the hoop, got a piece of the ball and forced a bad shot, leading to overtime.
Jekiri also scored what turned into the game-winning basket, making it 72-73 with 27 seconds left in overtime, and then made arguably his most important play of the night on ensuing Zvezda possession. This time, point guard Lorenzo Brown had the ball, but once again Jekiri switched to defend one-on-one against the quickest player on the opposing team. Jekiri played him perfectly, far from the basket, stopping Brown's drive around the three-point line, where he knocked the ball out of point guard's hands, forcing a turnover.
It takes a team effort to win in the EuroLeague, but it is hard to find a player who made more key plays for his team than Tonye Jekiri.