Fenerbache beats Partizan at the Štark Arena (94:97) in front of the traditionally loud Belgrade fans. In true derby fashion it was a close tie until the final ten minutes when Fener shot up through the offensive efforts of former Red Star tiebreaker Marko Gudurić.

Another Thursday, another packed Arena. The norm for Euroleague matches played in Belgrade. Loud and proud Partizan fans were supporting their squad in fight for the coveted Top 8 one step at a time. Last night’s derby against Fenerbahce justified the high expectations. Strong defences in the first twenty minutes and enough physical play kept the match interesting to the very end.

Fenerbahce traveled to Belgrade after the devastating earthquakes of Turkey and Syria. They are fighting for the Euroleague knockout stage, trying to bring back some normalcy to a country forever changed. With nine new players, they aim to create team chemistry essential for trophy-winning seasons that follow. A team “made for the Final Four”, according to coach Željko Obradović. The ties between Obradović and Fenerbahce are unbreakable. The years of trophies with the Serbian expert at the helm created a stellar reputation for the club.

Moving into the second half, the score would remain equal, occasionally sliding by 1-2 points on either side. It was clear that the two coaches Itoudis and Obradović had spent over a decade working together, knowing each other’s every move.

Partizan were in the lead (66:63) by the end of 3Q, which still wasn’t enough to conclude a complete turn of the match.

Fener then destabilised the opponent through defensive rebounds and spot shots. Taking the lead in their final attack of the 3/4 through a 3-pointer by Marko Gudurić. It was quickly responded by Lessort (69:70). One coach challenge later, the score was back to 69:68 ending the tense five seconds before the next break. 

As the final ten minutes began, both teams tried to reach a faster advantage emphasising the 3-pointers. A tactic that worked for the guests with Wilbekin and Gudurić being highly motivated. Fener were strong from the 3-point line with 53,8% precision. These high paced shots finally created a greater scoreboard distance between the two rivals (78:84) with 5 minutes left.

However, it wasn’t over. Punter hits a 3-pointer, drawing a foul. Partizan fans all jumping out of their seats. Quickly regaining the psychological balance Motley draws a foul back and Gudurić is once again back to the scoreboard. The Serbian #23 brings it to a 6-point lead. As expected, the home crowd wasn’t happy. Not only was Gudurić the prime asset for Fener, but is well known for having been a tiebreaker in rival Red Star.

As Partizan attempts to get their defence back, Punter is out with 5 fouls, while Booker’s dunk created an 8-point lead for the guests. The final two minutes were clocking away. Despite the Black and Whites bringing the lead to 4 points, not much else could be done. Fenerbahce took away an important victory from Belgrade. One of the key points for Partizan’s desired Top 8 placement. Unsurprisingly tonight’s MVP is in fact Marko Gudurić with 25 points, 7/7 in free throws, and a PIR of 35. Nearly matched by the 25 points from Kevin Punter.

Coach Itoudis: “We refused to lose”

Fenerbahce’s coach Dimitris Itoudis first reflected on the devastating earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria: “It was very important for us to win. I understand that we can’t heal the wounds that are devastating and unspeakable… We hope that this will never happen again, in the modern world where you build buildings (for you) to be safe…”

He then spoke of the match: “Partizan is a very competitive team. We have lost the first round. We knew we didn’t want to go 2-0 during the race for the playoffs. I congratulate my players on the fact we refused to lose. Despite Partizan crushing the boards. They were much better on the boards. We took a double margin and they came back. They took over, and we were composed at that moment. (…) We are happy for this win. I would like to mention the atmosphere. Partizan fans are pushing both teams to play. It was spectacular.”, said coach Itoudis.

When asked about the rendition of Marko Gudurić, Itoudis said: “Gudurić is a very important player for us. He truly proved that he can play at a perfect level. He knows he needs to play both offense and defense with the same desire. He is very smart knowing that he needs to be the leader, both in timeouts and on court. This whole team fought great tonight.”

Coach Itoudis was asked about the way in which his friendship with coach Obradović affects match preparation and scouting: “Željko Obradović is one of the best coaches, if not the best coach in the world. When you connect with someone, we lived and worked together for thirteen years… You can’t allow Zeljko to touch your tactics.”, he concluded.

Coach Obradović: “The details made the difference”

“There were the small details that made the difference. Fenerbahce played an excellent match, keeping players that made it difficult for us on the low post. They used our weak points, we do the same. These are all known things, part of the tactics. (…) We knew that their game creators were Wilbekin and Gudurić. Unfortunately we didn’t use the 1-1 situations. We also didn’t use some of the situations where we could make the fouls. Which is a great weapon for a team.”, said coach Obradović at the postmatch presser.

Despite the guests’ new roster Obradović is certain: “Fener are a team built to play the F4.” 

When asked about the perspective for the following matches and the Top 8, the coach responded: “There are no easy matches. We have nine more left. After the break in the Qualifying Windows we need to think about the match against Alba. Followed by three away matches in a row. We then enter a series of matches played at home. Each more difficult than the next. People have an opportunity to watch excellent basketball.

As always, coach Obradović pointed out the importance of the home crowd: “I would like to take the opportunity to thank the fans for a fantastic atmosphere and their support for the team. People come here from far and wide to watch Partizan. The fans make us proud. We are trying our best and we will continue to fight. We have no dilemmas in that aspect.”, with this concluding tonight’s press conference.

Partizan, currently 8th in the Euroleague standings, will play Alba in the Arena on March 2nd. They are then off to Bologna and Milan.

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