Following a perfect 10-day road trip, the Israel national team returned home in a celebratory mood on Thursday night after closing in on qualification for EuroBasket 2015.
A victory over the Netherlands in Nicosia, Cyprus on Sunday will wrap up first place in qualifying Group B and secure Israel’s progress to a 12th consecutive European Championships.
After dropping to a 100-97 overtime defeat to Montenegro in its group opener, the blueand- white beat the Netherlands, Bulgaria and finally Montenegro on the road by an average 13.3 points per game.
Israel has continued to show progress with every game, culminating in Wednesday’s impressive 80-65 victory over Montenegro in Podgorica.
Dallas Mavericks guard Gal Mekel was the star of the show with a triple-double of 14 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds, but Omri Casspi, Guy Pnini and D’or Fischer all also played key roles once more.
“We have one foot in the European Championships but we need to finish the job,” said Israel coach Erez Edelstein. “The entire arena stood up and saluted us at the end of the game. We had 24 assists and stopped them on 65 points. We are happy to be home and we are looking forward to going to Cyprus and completing our mission. I’m proud to be coaching this group of players.”
Israel and the Netherlands are currently tied atop of the group with a 3-1 record, with the blueand- white sitting in first place thanks to a superior basket differential (37 to 14).
A blue-and-white triumph on Sunday will guarantee the team wins the group as even should Israel lose its final qualifier against rock-bottom Bulgaria in Cyprus next Wednesday, it will still own a 4-2 record and a head-to-head advantage over both Montenegro and the Netherlands (which won’t be able to finish any better than 4-2).
Even should the national team lose to the Netherlands, it will very likely finish in the top two assuming it goes on to beat Bulgaria.
The seven group winners, as well as the six-best second-place finishers, will advance directly to next summer’s tournament. In order to determine the best second-place finishers, the results of the games against the fourth placed team (which in Group B’s case is set to be Bulgaria) will be removed from the ranking process.
“The Netherlands aren’t suckers,” said Mekel. “They play in a different and defensive style and they beat Montenegro. However, that makes little difference to us. We need to beat them and secure our progress.”