Hapoel Jerusalem can turn its recent struggles into a distant memory should it defeat Ulm of Germany by three points or more in the second leg of the Eurocup Last 16 at Malha Arena on Wednesday night.
After tying a club record with 13 consecutive BSL victories and advancing from Eurocup Last 32 Group M with a game to spare, Jerusalem has lost its way in recent weeks.
Hapoel has lost four of its past five contests in all competitions, falling from the summit of the BSL standings and leaving itself with some work to do on Wednesday after dropping to an 89-87 defeat at Ulm in the first leg last week.
Jerusalem had its nine-game BSL winning streak at Malha snapped with Sunday’s 99-93 loss to Maccabi Haifa, a worrying sign as it looks to record its seventh home victory in a row in continental competition on Wednesday.
Hapoel has suffered just a single defeat in eight Eurocup games in Jerusalem this season and that too came against Russian powerhouse Khimki Moscow and only after two overtimes.
An improvement on the defensive end will surely be required for Hapoel to overcome Ulm, with Jerusalem allowing 93.5 points per game in its past four defeats.
“This is a game that demands our best defensive effort of the year,” said Jerusalem coach Brad Greenberg.
“Ulm has very strong offensive players and creative schemes. Our mental and physical toughness must be at an elite level to beat them and advance on to the next stage of Eurocup competition. Our players understand we need extraordinary effort and precision execution.”
Jerusalem led by as many as 12 points in the first quarter of the first leg and took a four-point gap into the final 10 minutes (69-65).
However, the Germans opened the fourth quarter with a 15-3 run to seize control and ultimately eked out a tight triumph.
Hapoel paid a dear price for its dismal night from beyond the arc, connecting on just 3-of-20 three-point attempts (15%), while Ulm hit 13-of-27 triples, led by Edgar Sosa, who ended the game with 19 points, including three baskets from distance.
“Defensively we have to make sure that Jerusalem will not score as easy under the basket as they did in game one,” said Ulm coach Thorsten Leibenath. “It is for sure that we will try to slow down Halperin and Duncan.
“We are also thinking about double teaming certain players. Offensively we should take much more care of the ball than we did in Game 1.”
Josh Duncan led Hapoel with 22 points in Germany, while Bracey Wright and Art Parakhouski had 15 points each.
Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin added 12 and 11 points, respectively, and the entire roster is looking forward to an exciting night of basketball at Malha.
“This is without a doubt the most important game of the season for us so far,” said Halperin. “We need to do a much better job on the defensive end than we did last week.
“I expect a very tough and tight game that will be decided at the very end. I can feel the excitement in Jerusalem and I’m sure that the atmosphere in Malha will be amazing.”