AX Armani Exchange Milan forward Nicolo Melli faced a very special game against Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul this Friday, as he played for the Turkish team for two seasons and helped it reach the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game in 2018. He returned to Istanbul for the first time since leaving the club, and now as a key contributor for the current Turkish Airlines Euroleague leader.
The emotions didn’t seem to affect Melli, who finished as his team’s top player in efficiency by signing off a PIR of 17, together with Shavon Shields. The Italian big man posted 6 points, 6 rebounds and a career-high 6 steals to help his team destroy Fenerbahce 43-68 in a game that was decided long before the final buzzer. "There is a mistake, for sure. It’s a mistake in the statistic," joked Melli after being questioned about that 6-6-6 statistic once the game ended.
Besides the numbers, Melli acknowledged how important it was to win in Istanbul, a place he knows very well: "This is very important, as we know this was a tough environment. Fenerbahce lost a couple of games by a couple points, these things are not realistic for them, so we knew it was a tough game and we approached it very well."
Milan’s approach paid off early on, and Melli was one of the key players to get the game plan going. He scored the first basket of the game and six out of his team’s first 11 points, combining with Luigi Datome - another former Fenerbahce’s member - to spark a 1-11 opening run that set the foundation for his team’s win. "I think we imposed our rhythm from the beginning, that was the key," he confirmed.
Once the guests took that early lead, the difference did nothing but grow, as the hosts felt totally entrapped against Milan’s defensive display.
"Congratulations to my players for what I think has been a great defensive game. We played very, very, well in our half court," said Milan Head Coach Ettore Messina after his team held Fenerbahce to 3 points in the first quarter and 43 overall in the game.
Both numbers were the lowest ever for Fenerbahce. Suffocated by Milan’s terrific defense from the very beginning, the hosts needed 5 minutes to open its scoring thanks to a free throw by Jan Vesely. It took 9 minutes until the home team got its first field goal through Sehmus Hazer and, by that time, the visitors were already leading 3-19 and Fenerbahce finished the first period trailing 3-22.
This scoring fell just 1 point shy of the EuroLeague’s lowest by any team in any quarter, and lowest-scoring in the first quarter when Zalgiris Kaunas had only 2 in the opening period against Anadolu Efes Istanbul on December 4, 2014. The previous lowest scoring in a quarter for Fener was 4 points in the 2004-2005 season.
Fenerbahce’s 43 total points was also a negative record. The last time the Turkish champs were held to less than 50 points was in 2008-2009, when they lost to CSKA Moscow 48-66 in Istanbul.
"Everybody did their job, we had a couple of things that we wanted to take away that they do, and we did a good job on that. They missed a couple of open shots early and that obviously helps a little bit, but I think we took them away from what they wanted to do," pointed out Shavon Shields, another key performer for the winners.
Watching out for all the other teams from the top of the mountain, Milan now looks forward to the upcoming challenges: "Now we have another two road games in Russia next week, so we start on the right foot," concluded Melli. He certainly did on Friday night.