(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Hapoel Jerusalem’s Eurocup dreams suffered another blow on Wednesday night with an 83-74 defeat to CSU Ploiesti.
Jerusalem entered the encounter on cloud nine after crushing Maccabi Tel Aviv by 30 points in BSL action on Sunday. After opening its Eurocup regular season campaign with two tight defeats, Hapoel also finally got off the mark in Group E last week, edging Partizan Belgrade 82-79.
Danny Franco’s men were confident of improving to .500 with a victory on Wednesday, but yet again failed to close out a game in continental competition, leaving them in a precarious position.
Banvit Bandirma beat Hapoel by four points in their opener before Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd eked out a 79-78 win in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem dropped to fifth place in the group with a 1-3 record on Wednesday, one game behind Volgograd. The top four teams in the group after 10 regular season games will advance to the Last 32.
The defeat in Romania means Hapoel’s two upcoming home contests against Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius next week and Banvit Bandirma on November 19 have become must-win games, with Jerusalem to play three of its final four regular season games on the road.
Donta Smith led Jerusalem with 23 points and eight rebounds against Ploiesti, with Yotam Halperin adding 15 points.
However, Lior Eliyahu (three points) and Derwin Kitchen (six points) never really showed up on Wednesday and Hapoel paid a dear price.
Former Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Dee Brown led five Ploiesti players in double figures with 16 points and 13 assists. Dragan Labovic added 15 points and six rebounds.
Hapoel got off to an encouraging start, with a Halperin three-pointer opening an early five-point margin (10-5).
A Smith dunk took the gap to seven points (14-7), but the hosts replied with an 8-0 run, capped by a Christopher Cooper lay-up, to move into the lead.
Ploiesti still held a one-point gap (19-18) entering the second period, and another 8-0 surge by the Romanian side opened a seven- point margin (27-20).
Hapoel scored the next seven points to tie the score before moving back in front, only for Ploiesti to regain its advantage before the break, with a Marius Runkauskas triple giving the hosts a 43-37 advantage at halftime.
Jerusalem slowly ate away at the deficit and another Halperin three handed the visitors a 55-53 lead with 2:53 minutes to play.
However, that would prove to be the last time Hapoel held the lead, although the Israelis were only down by two points (59-57) entering the final 10 minutes.
Hapoel was still trailing by just two points (63-61) following Bracey Wright’s jumper with 7:27 minutes remaining, but the turning point would arrive in the team’s subsequent possession.
Jerusalem had no less than three opportunities to tie the score, but Smith missed under the basket twice and Wright failed once.
Moments later, Alhaji Mohammed completed a three-point play at the other end, extending the margin to five points (66-61), but more importantly, shifting the momentum in Ploiesti’s favor.
Jerusalem still stuck around, but Brown and Labovic made sure the hosts never lost control, with another basket by the Serbian giving the Romanians a nine-point margin (81-72) with 1:16 minutes to go from which Hapoel was never going to come back.