Hapoel Jerusalem guard Curtis Jerrells.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem got the Eurocup Top 16 off to a perfect start on Wednesday, coming back from 20 points down to claim an 80-76 win at Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius in Lithuania.
Jerusalem trailed 34-14 in the second quarter and didn’t take its first lead of the night until the fourth frame. Star guard Curtis Jerrells willed his team to victory in the second half, scoring 20 of his 26 points after the break, including eight straight points at one stage in the fourth quarter and the go-ahead basket with less than three minutes to play.
Jerusalem also faces Russian teams Zenit St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod in Group G of the Top 16, with the top two to advance to the quarterfinals. With each team only playing six games in total, every win is crucial, especially if it comes on the road.
“We started the game bad, we were soft, we missed some layups, some open shots.
We were not ready for that kind of toughness,” said Jerusalem coach Simone Pianigiani.
“But mentally we stayed in the game, we never gave up. We waited for our moments and we reset in the second quarter playing the right way. We made a great effort on the perimeter to contest Lietuvos Rytas. We kept playing until the end.”
Jerome Dyson added 15 points for Hapoel, which hit 13-of-23 shots (56.5%) from three-point range. David Logan had 19 points for Vilnius, which connected on just 6-of-32 attempts (18.8%) from beyond the arc.
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The hosts scored the first eight points of the night and their lead reached double digits (17-5) after just six minutes. Vilnius took a 23-12 lead into the second quarter and opened a 20-point gap (34-14) with an 11-2 run capped by a Logan three-pointer just under four minutes into the period.
Jerusalem limited the damage until the break, closing within 12 points (43-31), and eight straight points to start the second half moved it within striking distance (43-39).
Rytas reestablished a double-figure gap (61-51), but Jerusalem entered the final quarter only six points back (63-57) of the Lithuanians, with Jerrells scoring 12 points in the frame.
He continued his stellar play in the final 10 minutes, but it was five straight points by Dyson in the first minute of the fourth period that gave Jerusalem its first lead of the game (65-63).
The lead continued to exchange hands until a Jerrells jumper followed by a three-pointer with just under two minutes to play handed Jerusalem a 77-73 advantage.
Vilnius could have snatched the win in the closing seconds, but Rokas Giedraitis missed his three-point attempt and Tarence Kinsey clinched the important victory from the line with eight seconds remaining.
Elsewhere, Maccabi Rishon Lezion took a significant step towards progress to the next round of the FIBA Champions League, beating Venezia of Italy 79-61.
Rishon improved to 5-6 in Group B and kept its fate in its own hands with three regular season games remaining.
Javon McCrea led Rishon with 24 points and 13 rebounds, with Avi Ben-Shimol adding 20 points and five assists.
“The players were amazing today, especially on defense,” said Rishon coach Arik Shivek. “Venezia is in second place in Italy and is a very good team. We have our fate in our own hands and that is important. If we continue to do our job in our remaining three games we will advance.”
Rishon is in fifth place in Group B, with the top four teams from each group and the four best ranked fifth-placed teams to progress to the playoffs.
On Tuesday, Ironi Nahariya fell to 3-8 in Group A with a 71-64 defeat to AS Monaco.
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