A masterful effort by veteran guard Afik Nissim on Sunday night kept alive Israel’s hopes at the EuroBasket, with the national team blowing out Belgium 87-69 in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Israel entered Sunday’s contest reeling from an 0-3 start to Group A, but knew it would still have a chance of progressing to the second round should it defeat Belgium by more than five points and overcome Germany on Monday, with other results also going its way.
The blue-and-white finally got a game off to a promising start on Sunday, but it was only when Nissim entered the floor that Israel ultimately surged ahead.
The 32-year-old guard wasn’t even part of the Israel roster during last summer’s qualifying campaign, but he was the team’s best player in its first three games and was unstoppable on Sunday, scoring 23 points on 9-of-11 from the field, including five three pointers.
Yotam Halperin added 14 points, with Lior Eliyahu and Guy Pnini finishing with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Omri Casspi scored just two points in 12 minutes.
Maxime De Zeeuw had 14 points for Belgium.
In order to advance to the second round, Israel will need to beat Germany in its final group game on Monday and hope Ukraine overcomes Great Britain and France defeats Belgium.
Should that unfold, Israel, Belgium and the Brits will all end the first round with a 2-3 record, but the blue-andwhite will finish ahead of the Belgians and GB and qualify from third place.
After combining for less than 13 points per game in Israel’s first three contests, Yogev Ohayon and Yotam Halperin scored 14 of Israel’s first 15 points of the night to open an early five-point gap (15-10) before Casspi’s only points of the game opened a 19- 15 lead.
However, Sunday’s game was all about Nissim. He scored 10 points in less than two minutes in the second quarter, with his three-pointer with 3:55 to play in the half opening a 36- 28 margin.
Nissim also scored the final points of the second period to ensure the national team still held an eight-point lead (41-33) after its best half of the championships, even though Casspi and Eliyahu combined for just four points.
Nissim continued to terrorize Belgium in the second half, scoring at will to lead Israel to an unassailable margin.
A Halperin lay-up at the start of the half took the blue-and-white’s gap to double-digits (45-35) for the first time and Nissim soon clinched the victory.
The Hapoel Eilat guard scored 11 points in a 2:20 minute stretch to extend Israel’s advantage to a stunning 19 points (58-39).
The gap only continued to grow after that, with an Ido Kozikaro three-point play giving the national team an insurmountable 73-46 gap ahead of the final quarter, ensuring Israel would still have everything to play for on Monday.