Hapoel Jerusalem recorded one of its best defensive displays of the season when it needed it most on Wednesday night, beating Ulm of Germany 81-65 at Malha Arena to advance to the Eurocup quarterfinals for the first time since 2010.
Jerusalem needed to beat Ulm by three points or more after losing the first leg in Germany 89-87 last week, and it led from start to finish at Malha.
A 16-0 run in the second quarter saw Hapoel open a 20-point gap (42-22) and the visitors came no closer than seven points (61-54) before Jerusalem put the tie to bed with an 18-4 fourth-quarter surge (79-58).
Hapoel will host Nizhny Novgorod of Russia in the first leg of the quarterfinals next Wednesday, with the return leg to be played the following week.
Novgorod stunned Besiktas of Turkey on Wednesday, erasing a 17-point deficit (88- 71) from the first leg with a 95-71 triumph.
Hapoel had lost four of its previous five contests in all competitions entering Wednesday’s encounter, allowing 93.5 points per game in the defeats.
However, it limited Ulm to 50 percent (20-of-40) from two-point range and 6-of- 21 from beyond the arc (28%) on Wednesday, forcing 16 turnovers.
Jerusalem was also efficient on the offensive end, hitting 27-of-42 shots (64%) from inside the arc, with Bracey Wright leading the way with 21 points, including a trio of three-pointers.
“It was a huge defensive effort from us,” said Wright, who has scored at least 13 points in all seven Eurocup games he has played for Hapoel this season.
“The last few weeks we have really been struggling to put teams away. But tonight when we needed it the most we really stepped up on defense. This is a huge win for us. We communicated a whole lot more on defense and our focus was sharper than it has been. We knew it was do or die and that effort was there and that is what we have been missing the last few games.
“If we play like this on a consistent basis I don’t see why we can’t be in the finals.”
Ronald Dupree added 14 points for Hapoel, with Derwin Kitchen scoring 12 points and Yotam Halperin contributing 10 points.
Matt Howard was Ulm’s only player in double figures with 15 points.
It took Ulm almost four minutes to score its first points of the night, but Jerusalem was also clearly suffering from nerves at the start of the game, managing just four points during that stretch.
Ulm remained within arm’s length of Hapoel throughout the first period, with four straight points by Wright giving the hosts a five-point advantage (21-16) after 10 minutes.
Wright also opened the second quarter with a three-pointer and it didn’t take Jerusalem long to extend its margin to 42-22.
However, the Germans never gave up the chase, closing to within 14 points at the break (46-32) and cutting the deficit to seven points early in the fourth frame (61-54).
Nevertheless, Hapoel would clinch the tie with an 18-4 push, keeping alive its dream of winning the Eurocup 10 years after it lifted the ULEB Cup.
“Our guys played all out every single possession, certainly on the defensive end, and that is why we opened a lead and held the lead,” noted Hapoel coach Brad Greenberg.
“Let me celebrate this win tonight and we will prepare for the quarters next week.”