The fans of Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul witnessed an unforgettable victory when their team beat visiting Zalgiris Kaunas 73-67 at the Ulker Sports and Event Hall on Thursday night. The hosts faced this game with plenty of absences, both on and off the court, as they missed key members like Jan Vesely, Nando de Colo, Marial Shayok and Danilo Barthel, not to mention head coach Sasa Djordjevic. Also, Pierria Henry was a game-time decision after missing all practices of the week.
Such a lack of resources seemed too much for Fenerbahce to withstand when the game started. The hosts were held to 7 points in the first quarter and reached halftime trailing 24-30 due to poor 10-for-32 from the field. Zalgiris, who was also dealing with several absences, seemed to have adjusted better to build an apparently decisive advantage of 17 points, 26-43, midway through the third quarter.
Just when the odds seemed stacked against Fenerbahce, however, Marko Guduric stepped up to boost his team to a historic come-from-behind win.
"He's that kind of player; that's why he is here, so it's not strange for us," assistant coach Goran Bjedov, standing in for Djordjevic, said after the game. "We have some problems with injuries, but we hope we can finish this period soon."
Guduric was more than conscious of his added responsibilities under the circumstances.
“I have to be a leader of this team right now," he said. "I tried to do it tonight, and it worked well."
After scoring just a single three-pointer in the first half, Guduric took over when his team needed it most and provided 16 points in the last 14 minutes to lift Fenerbahce past Zalgiris. His free throw with 3:14 to go gave Fenerbahce its very first lead, 63-62, and he hit the decisive three-pointer to make it 69-67 with 43 seconds, after which Fenerbahce did not trail again.
"This was, I have to say, one of the most important games in my career and one of the best wins," Guduric said right after. "I'm so happy, so proud of this team. With all the problems we have, it's unbelievable."
Guduric completed his best game of the season by scoring 19 points, grabbing 4 boards, dishing 5 assists and getting 3 steals for a PIR of 27. He doubled his scoring average this season (9.8), good enough for Fenerbahce to grab its biggest comeback win ever in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
Fenerbahce had previously rallied from a 16-point deficit to defeat Chorale Roanne, 90-97, on November 14, 2017, and to beat Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens, 58-71, in Game 1 of the 2016-17 Playoffs. But overcoming a 17-point advantage on this night had an even more special taste because of the circumstances.
"Corona cases, injuries, and 17 points down in the third quarter, but we came back. I'm super proud of my team," Guduric gushed. "Henry did not even practice the whole week; he just did shooting this morning. This is an amazing group of guys."