Basketball is a game of momentum and Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul stared down poor runs in multiple ways to get back on track with a 65-73 road win at Zenit St. Petersburg on Thursday night.
The 2017 champions came into the game having lost four games in a row. Fenerbahce took charge and led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter and by 15 early in the third. That's when Zenit took charge with 18 unanswered points and the hosts lead 58-53 early in the fourth. On the road, on a losing streak and the opposition has all the momentum. One could be forgiven for thinking that Zenit had this game in its pocket.
It's a situation Fenerbahce knew all too well, as big man Danilo Barthel explained: "Unfortunately, we experienced this also in the last games; we didn’t come out of the locker room at halftime very strong."
This time, Fenerbahce knew how to recover. Coach Igor Kokoskov relied on a veteran lineup led by Barthel and Ali Muhammed to get the job done. The former scored twice to bring the visitors within a single point. Then Ali responded with back-to-back triples. And Fenerbahce never trailed again.
"I’m glad we didn’t panic. It's a long game - 5 points is two possessions really. We stayed calm and we kept competing," Kokoskov said in the post-game press conference. "We have a lot of veteran players on our team and we have to play with the poise and not panic when a team is coming back. They had a lead, 5 points, so it just makes me happy that at that point in the game, we didn’t panic, we just took one possession at a time."
Fenerbahce outscored Zenit 12-20 in the fourth quarter and all but 3 of the visitors' points in the final stanza came from the trio of Muhammed (7), Barthel (6) and Jan Vesely (4). Not surprisingly, those three were also Fenerbahce's top scorers on the night combining for nearly 60 percent of the team's points; Vesely finished with 17 points, Barthel scored 15 and Muhammed 11.
The team's recent woes have coincided with the loss of star guard Nando De Colo, who is expected back soon. Fenerbahce should have renewed confidence after looking its demons in the eye in St. Petersburg to regain momentum in more ways than one. And the return of De Colo will only make Fenerbahce stronger as the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague heats up in the middle of the winter.