Despite defeating Nizhny Novgorod 81-78 at Malha Arena on Wednesday night thanks to Yotam Halperin’s three-pointer at the buzzer, Hapoel Jerusalem faces an uphill battle in Russia next week as it looks to reach the Eurocup semifinals.

No more than six points separated Hapoel and Nizhny throughout Wednesday’s first leg, with the visitors holding a slender lead for much of the second half before Jerusalem eked out a tight win following Halperin’s buzzer-beater.

However, Jerusalem was hoping to take a far bigger cushion into the second leg in Russia next Wednesday, with Novgorod winning eight of nine home contests in the Eurocup this season, including a 24-point triumph over Besiktas last week to erase a 17-point first leg defeat.

Nevertheless, Hapoel coach Brad Greenberg was delighted with the performance of his players, although he too understands the mammoth task his team faces next week.

“I can’t give enough credit to our players,” he said. “I like to give them freedom and they called a lot of the plays themselves this season and they did a marvelous job of managing the game.

“Nizhny is a great team. We made them work hard but they are good players,” he added. “I’m proud of how we played. It is a heck of an accomplishment to beat this team, but it is just halftime.”

Art Parakhouski led Jerusalem with 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks, with Halperin finishing the night with 17 points and seven assists. Derwin Kitchen added 16 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Ronald Dupree and Josh Duncan had 12 points each. Lior Eliyahu failed to score in 24 minutes.

“I would have been a lot happier had my three given the team a more significant victory,” said Halperin. “I feel like we missed an opportunity tonight. But perhaps there is also a positive side to this. I would rather win by 20 points, but the fact we won by three means we will go to Russia looking to win.”

Primoz Brezec and Dijon Thompson scored 21 points each for Novgorod.

Greenberg stressed the importance of his team being at its best on the defensive end ahead of the first leg and his players responded by opening the game with a 6-0 run, forcing a shot-clock violation and registering two blocks in Nizhny’s first few possessions.

However, six points would prove to be Hapoel’s biggest lead of the night, with Novgorod eventually finding its footing to take a three-point gap (22-19) into the second quarter following Thompson’s triple.

The game remained extremely tight until the halftime buzzer, with four points or less separating the teams throughout the second period.

Brezec’s free-throws gave the visitors a 40-36 advantage at the break and a Thompson basket opened a game-high six-point margin (48-42).

Hapoel replied with a 9-2 run, with Parakhouski’s three-point play putting the hosts back in front (51-50) midway through the third frame.

Jerusalem still led by a single point (57- 56) entering the fourth quarter, but its hopes of establishing a significant margin in the final 10 minutes ahead of the second leg were quickly dashed.

After being held to just three points in the first three periods, Taylor Rochestie scored eight consecutive points to give Novgorod a five-point gap (72-67).

Jerusalem came right back, with Duncan’s basket from beyond the arc tying the score at 76-76 before Halperin’s buzzer- beating three ensured Hapoel ended the night on a sweet note, but only with a slim cushion ahead of the second leg.

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