Hapoel Jerusalem forward Tony Gaffney (in red).
(photo credit: HAPOEL JERUSALEM WEBSITE)
Derwin Kitchen’s basket with 0.2 seconds to play kick-started Hapoel Jerusalem’s Eurocup regular season campaign on Wednesday night, securing an 82-79 victory over Partizan Belgrade.
Following defeats to Banvit Bandirma and Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd in its first two Group E games, Jerusalem really couldn’t afford anything but a win against Partizan.
Danny Franco’s men struggled yet again, trailing by 10 points (66-56) entering the final 10 minutes.
However, unlike their two previous continental games in which they dropped tight contests in the final seconds, Hapoel was the one to triumph in dramatic fashion on Wednesday.
A Djordje Gagic dunk brought Partizan back on level terms with 5.3 seconds left on the clock, but Kitchen ensured Jerusalem finally got off the mark in the Eurocup with a three-point play in the final second.
Lior Eliyahu led Jerusalem with 22 points and six rebounds, while Joseph Jones and Donta Smith scored 13 points each. Yotam Halperin added 12 points and seven assists, with Kitchen finishing with 11 points.
Edo Muric had 21 points for Partizan, which dropped to 0-3.
“This was a difficult game and we should have paid more notice to their three-point shooting,” said Eliyahu. “Nevertheless, we managed to close a 10-point gap. Kitchen’s basket was very important and I don’t even want to think about what could have happened had we lost.”
As expected, Partizan targeted its big men in the paint at the start of the game and Jerusalem had no answer. However, the hosts hit 8-of-10 shots from twopoint range to begin the night to open a five-point gap (16-11).
Hapoel’s lead wouldn’t last long, with the Serbs ending the first frame on a 9-2 run. After hitting just one of its first five threepoint attempts, Partizan, and Luka Bogdanovic in particular, caught fire from beyond the arc.
The forward only scored his first points late in the first quarter, with his triple giving the visitors a 20-18 advantage after 10 minutes. Bogdanovic began the second period with a rare four-point play and another three by the 29-year-old saw Partizan take a double-digit margin for the first time (32-22).
Jerusalem would have found itself in a bigger deficit had it not been for Eliyahu, who already had 14 points midway through the second quarter. Five straight points by Tony Gaffney brought the hosts within a single point, and even though Hapoel failed to move in front, it remained well within striking distance at the break (46-42).
Jerusalem finally regained the lead after scoring seven of the first nine points of the second half, only to once more lose the momentum.
Hapoel failed to score in the final five minutes of the third frame, with Partizan ending the period with a 14-0 surge, capped by Mihajilo Andric’s three, to take a 66-56 margin into the final 10 minutes.
However, Jerusalem wouldn’t go down without a fight, with an Eliyahu basket tying the score at 71-71 with 3:36 minutes to play.
The game remained tight until the final buzzer, with two Bracey Wright free throws giving the hosts a 79-77 lead with 29 seconds to play. A defensive breakdown saw Gagic tie the score with a wide open dunk with 5.3 seconds left, setting the stage for Kitchen.
The American guard picked up the ball on the three-point arc and drove to the basket before finishing his move with a scoop shot to clinch Jerusalem’s win.
Meanwhile, FIBA Europe announced on Wednesday that the EuroBasket 2015 draw will be held on December 8 in Disneyland Paris. EuroBasket 2015 will take place from September 5-20, serving as a qualification tournament for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The Israel national team will be taking part in the European Championships for a 12th consecutive time.