The nerves didn’t get to the hosts as Ekpe Udoh delivered a tremendous performance to guide Fenerbahce past Real Madrid and into Sunday’s Euroleague Final Four championship game. Emmet Ryan reports from Istanbul
There was no doubt who the home team was as Fenerbahce and Real Madrid got ready for battle. Real’s players were greeted with a deafening chorus of whistles as the Fener fans looked to intimidate the league leaders early. They had been in full song from the off and they showed it as Real went on offence for the first time. Real turned it over, Bogdan went up and scored. All the cheers.
On the whole however this was a nervy start to proceedings, even with a Nikola Kalinic three rousing the home support. Mr President himself, Bobby Dixon, made it a double digit lead and suddenly things were looking really hot for Fenerbahce. Kalinic was staying way off Doncic, forcing him to go from deep and cutting out his driving game. Ekpe Udoh and Jan Vesely were teaming up nicely together, with the big Czech looking in excited form early.
Sergio Llull was proving a one man show for Real’s offence, scoring a quick 11 points in the first quarter, with Ayon the only other one of Los Blancos to score as they trailed by 8 after 10 minutes.
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Turnovers blighted the first half as a whole. With 15 in the game’s first 14 minutes, this was not the most coherent game. While Real were making more errors, the impact seemed even across both sides. Neither side could really hurt the other’s sloppy play. Fener kept pressing on, moving into a 13 point lead, but they missed out as much on a chance to go even further in front as Real did to reel them in.
A break came Real’s way when Rudy Fernandez and Gigi Datome got into a tussle. The mid-game stoppage saw both men get technicals but it was enough to take the flow out of it. A three from Anthony Randolph made it look like Real were ready to start reeling them in. Llull hit another and suddenly Fener weren’t looking all that dominant. The Llull hit another and the run was 11-0 before Fener finally got something going on offence again.
With Fener having just about restored some order to their offence, disaster struck for Madrid. Randolph fell hard on an offensive rebound and, after clutching his back in pain, was eventually helped off the floor by Othello Hunter. Fener led by 10 at the break and Real had to start looking for answers.
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Turnovers continuted to blight Real Madrid early in the third as Fener looked to press on. With the crowd in full voice, they looked well placed to take control and a long Kostas Sloukas 2 put them back up 13, their biggest lead of the night.
A pair of Jaycee Carroll threes calmed Madrid somewhat but they were still up against it. It was Llull however who remained Real’s best hope of staying in this one. The man who had spent so long in Chacho’s shadow was playing the floor general here. If anyone was going to save Real, it would be the charismatic guard. His partner in crime Luka Doncic however was struggling badly. Turnovers blighted him and he couldn’t buy a bucket.
When Ekpe Udoh made one from deep, it looked like nothing could go wrong for Fener on this night. Fener went in up 13. They had 10 minutes to not mess this up.
Fener kept on pushing it. Sloukas made it a 15 point lead with a 2 and Real responded so Datome made it a 16 point lead from deep. Eventually Laso was able to find a way to slow them and cut the gap in half with an 8-0 run.
That was the point where maybe, just maybe, Fener might falter but Udoh, who was doing everything on the night and flirted with the first Euroleague triple double in almost a decade, took care of business. A rip roaring dunk by the giant
The de facto hosts advance. They will face a fierce opponent in Olympiacos, one built with experience and strategic nous. It may not be the rematch with CSKA their fans wanted but the only thing that matters. The big banner said NOW WE STRIKE. On Sunday, they better not miss.