Avdija, Israel finding form in European U20s

Blue-and-white meets Montenegro in round-of-16 after conquests of Ukraine, Italy following loss to Serbia

July 16, 2019 22:50
3 minute read.
Avdija, Israel finding form in European U20s

DENI AVDIJA (left) and Yam Madar (right) have paced Israel through three games of the FIBA Under-20 European Championship, with Avdija averaging 17.3 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Madar putting up 18.7 points and 8.7 assists per game heading into the round-of-16 in Tel Aviv.. (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY/COURTESY)

Host Israel wrapped up the group stage of the FIBA Under-20 European Championship with a 93-74 victory over Ukraine on Monday night to finish with a 2-1 record, good for second place as it heads into a knockout round-of-16 contest against Montenegro on Wednesday.

Deni Avdija led the way for the blue-and-white with 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Yam Madar added 12 points and nine assists while Yair Kravits dropped 18 points in the triumph.

The Israelis stalled out of the gate as Ukrainians Issuf Sanon and Andrii Voinalovych dominated play early on while Avdija tried to keep Israel close. Ukraine took a 29-17 lead after 10 minutes, however, strong play by Raz Adam, Kravits and Avdija helped cut the lead to just a pair of points (45-43) by the end of the second quarter.

Vadym Kozak drilled a pair of triples for Ukraine to begin the third quarter, but Noam Avivi and Kravits helped Israel finally take a 66-61 lead by the end of the frame. Avdija and Madar shifted into high gear over the final 10 minutes to help Israel run away with the 19-point victory.

Through three games, Israel is still trying to find its best form and play for a completes 40 minutes. Most teams, however, are in the same boat as the blue-and-white – only two teams (France and Spain) went a perfect 3-0 in the group stage, while Turkey, Serbia, Croatia, Greece and Lithuania all finished with a 2-1 record, the same as Israel’s.

Should Israel defeat Montenegro on Wednesday night, coach Ariel Beit Halachmi’s team will face the winner of the Lithuania-vs-Latvia round-of-16 matchup in a Thursday quarterfinal. After an off day on Friday, the semifinals will be played Saturday evening with the final slated for Sunday night.

The story of the tournament to date has been the Israeli fans, who have shown up in droves, selling out Tel Aviv’s Drive In Arena for three games and delighting both the FIBA organizing committee and the players.

“The fans have been great,” said Beit Halachmi. “I have to acknowledge the fact that they are here supporting us each and every day.”

Avdija also had only praise for the home-crowd support.

“It’s always great to play at home with a tremendous atmosphere from our fans,” said the 18-year-old NBA hopeful. “I want to thank all of them who have been here so far and I certainly don’t take it for granted. The fans influence how we play and because of that we were able to come back against Ukraine and they pushed us to give more than 100%.”

In Israel’s second game of the competition, it defeated Italy 85-75 to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Serbia.
In what would be a tight back-and-forth game, Avdija and Madar took control of the final frame to lead the blue-and-white to victory.

Avdija led the way for Israel with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, while Madar dropped 20 points, dished out eight assists and pulled down five boards. Yotam Hanochi added 16 points while Kravits had 12 points in the win.

Guglielmo Caruso (20 points and 11 rebounds) and Gabriele Stefanini (19 points) led Italy.

On Saturday night, Israel fell 92-81 to Serbia in the opening game of the tournament in Tel Aviv. Madar had the hot hand for the blue-and-white, scoring 24 points and dishing out nine assists, while Avdija finished with 14 points, eight boards and six helpers in the loss.

Ranko Simovic led the way for Serbia with 18 points and nine rebounds while Nikola Miskovic added 17 points in the win.

In other Israeli basketball news, Maccabi Tel Aviv signed center Othello Hunter on Monday to take the place of the departed Alex Tyus. The 33-year old big man comes to the yellow-and-blue with a wealth of experience in European ball and was part of the CSKA Moscow team that just captured the Euroleague title. Hunter is familiar with Maccabi coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos as the two teamed up at Olympiacos from 2014-2016.

Maccabi has also reportedly come to terms with Omri Casspi to return to the club after 10 years in the NBA, but the deal has not been officially announced by either the player or the club.

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