Hapoel Jerusalem secured its progress to the Eurocup round-of-16 in emphatic fashion on Wednesday night, winning Last 32 Group M with a game to spare, while Maccabi Haifa’s continental campaign is hanging by a thread after a disastrous defeat in the Czech Republic.
Jerusalem beat Olimpija Ljubljana 86-77 at Malha Arena to improve to a 4-1 record and wrapped up first place in its group thanks to Budivelnik Kiev’s 60-59 victory over Banvit Bandirma.
“It’s exciting,” said Hapoel coach Brad Greenberg. “We’ve got such a great group of guys and it’s a big reason we are having a lot of success. They are coachable and are incredibly unselfish and that is about the strongest attribute you can have as a team.
I’m a lucky guy that I get to coach this group of guys.”
Haifa (2-3) led by as many as 17 points (32-15) late in the second quarter of its game at CEZ Nymburk (2-3). However, it completely capitulated in the fourth frame, being outscored 20-2 in the final 10 minutes on the way to a 68-53 defeat.
In order to finish Group K in second place and qualify for the last 16, Haifa needs to stun group-winner Khimki Moscow (5-0) at Romema Arena next Wednesday and for Nymburk to lose at Montepaschi Siena (1-4).
Khimki’s 85-73 victory over Siena earlier Wednesday was its 14th in a row in the Eurocup, with the Russians crushing Haifa by 39 points (87-48) last month.
Jerusalem got off to a slow start at Malha, but ended the first period with an 11-2 run, with Josh Duncan’s three-pointer opening an eight-point gap (24-16).
An 11-0 surge saw Hapoel’s margin reach 16 points and the hosts seemed to be in cruise control at the break (46-35).
However, Jerusalem would lose star swingman Derwin Kitchen to an ankle injury midway through the second quarter and Ljubljana closed to within just six points (68-62) with 10 minutes to play.
Alex Stepheson’s lay-up brought the visitors within a single possession two-and-ahalf minutes into the fourth period, but Ljubljana was held to just five points in the final seven minutes of the contest and Jerusalem celebrated its sixth victory in its past seven Eurocup encounters.
Duncan led six Jerusalem players in double figures with 21 points and nine rebounds. Lior Eliyahu and Art Parakhouski added 14 points each, with Nebojsa Joksimovic scoring 19 points for Ljubljana, which dropped to 1-4.
Haifa and Nymburk combined for just 21 points in the first quarter, with the hosts leading 11-10 after both teams hit 9-of-35 field-goal attempts and 1-of-6 shots from the free-throw line.
However, Haifa found its rhythm at the start of the second period, going on a 22-4 run to open a double-digit gap (32-15), with nine points coming courtesy of guard Dagan Yavzuri.
The Greens still looked to have a comfortable cushion (32-21) at the break, but were ahead by a mere three points (51-48) entering the final frame after Nymburk scored five more points in the third quarter than it managed in the entire first half.
However, matters would get a whole lot worse for Haifa after a historically poor fourth period. Haifa only scored its first and only points of the fourth quarter with 20 seconds remaining on the clock, and by that stage Nymburk had already netted 20 unanswered points to crush the Israeli side’s hopes of reaching the last 16.
Dagan Yavzuri had 13 points for Haifa, with Tre Simmons leading the winners with 16 points.