Israel secured its progress to a 12th consecutive EuroBasket tournament in impressive style on Sunday, crushing the Netherlands 83-60 in Nicosia, Cyprus to win qualifying Group B with a game to spare.
The blue-and-white outscored the Dutch 26-5 in the first quarter and never looked back, cruising to its fourth straight victory to improve to 4-1.
Since dropping to an overtime defeat to Montenegro in its qualifying opener, Israel recorded a significant improvement with every game, winning the last four contests over the past 11 days by an average 15.8 points.
The national team, which will finish a qualifying campaign in first place for the first time since 2001, hasn’t missed the European Championships since 1991.
Erez Edelstein’s men were clinical on Sunday, opening an unassailable 25-point gap (48-23) by the break, and holding on for a comfortable win despite a lax third quarter.
“We had many problems ahead of the campaign, but the players really wanted to do well and were so determined,” said coach Edelstein.
Israel hosts Bulgaria in its final qualifier in Larnaca on Wednesday, with Edelstein to give his fringe players rare playing time following the side’s progress to the championships on Sunday.
A defeat on Wednesday could still see Israel end the group tied at 4-2 with the Netherlands or Montenegro, which beat Bulgaria 84-73 on Sunday. However, the blue-and-white will still own a head-to-head advantage over both the Netherlands and Montenegro, ensuring Edelstein’s team will finish in first place regardless.
The seven group winners, as well as the six-best second-place finishers, advance directly to next summer’s tournament.
Omri Casspi was the national team’s top scorer for the fourth time in five qualifiers on Sunday, contributing 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Gal Mekel added 16 points, six assists and five rebounds, with Raviv Limonad and Yotam Halperin scoring 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Worthy De Jong had 15 points for the Netherlands.
After being contained by the Dutch for much of their first meeting in Groningen, Israel was determined to run at every opportunity on Sunday and its game-plan worked to perfection in the first half.
The offensively limited Dutch could barely buy a basket in the opening 10 minutes, with the blueand- white reaching free lay-ups time and again against a usually stingy defense.
Pnini’s points with just under four minutes to play in the first period opened a double-digit margin for the first time (16-5) and Yaniv Green’s basket to end the quarter took the gap beyond 20 points (26-5).
The Netherlands ended the opening frame with a single field goal from seven attempts, committing a massive 10 turnovers.
Israel, on the other hand, hit 8-of-11 shots from two-point range and its cushion already reached 26 points early in the second period after a Casspi three-pointer was followed by Limonad’s lay-up (31-5).
Pnini’s three extended the lead to 30 points (48-18) and Israel was in complete control at the break despite seeing Holland score the final five points of the half (48-23).
A lack of composure by the Israeli roster to start the second half almost allowed the Dutch back into the game, with De Jong’s triple cutting the margin to 13 points (52- 39) with four minutes to play in the third quarter.
However, the hosts scored 10 of the final 13 points of the frame to reestablish a 20-point gap (62-42) and ensure the final 10 minutes were no more than garbage time on the way to capping yet another successful qualifying campaign.