Israel guard Raviv Limonad drives to the basket to score two of his 15 points during Friday’s 82-75 victory over Great Britain in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Israel can officially secure its place in the second round of 2019 FIBA World Cup qualification when it visits Estonia on Sunday evening on the back of a nerve-racking victory over Great Britain on Friday.
Israel improved to a 2-1 record in Group H with an 82-75 triumph at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv, outlasting the Brits in a tense encounter. Another victory against Estonia combined with a likely Greece win over Great Britain on Sunday will ensure the blue-and-white a top-three finish in the group and a place in the second round, even before it completes the first round with two more games in the summer, hosting Greece on June 29 and visiting Great Britain on July 2 .
All results from the first qualification round will be carried over to the second round, with the top three in the second round, which will be comprised of four groups of six teams, to secure a berth in the World Cup.
On Friday, Gareth Murray gave the visitors a 73-72 lead with 2:45 minutes remaining in the game, but veteran forward Guy Pnini would come to Israel’s rescue.
After being told that his services would no longer be required ahead of the start of qualification last November, Pnini was recalled to the roster for Friday’s contest and repaid coach Oded Katash with a clutch display.
Pnini’s four-point play with 2:25 minutes on the clock put the hosts in front for good (76-73), with his two-pointer with 28 seconds left opening a five-point cushion (80- 75) and icing the victory.
Pnini finished with a teamhigh 18 points on 6-of-9 from the field, with Richard Howell adding 16 points and Raviv Limonad scoring 15.
Gabe Olaseni netted 19 points for Great Britain, which fell to 0-3 in qualification action.
Greece leads the group at 3-0 after beating Estonia (1-2) 87-75 on Friday. Israel defeated Estonia 88-68 when the teams met in Tel Aviv last November.
“It took me a bit of time to find the right lineup, but as soon as we started playing with four guards we found our rhythm,” said Israel coach Oded Katash, who was guiding the blue-and-white for the first time since it was announced he would take over as the head coach of Hapoel Jerusalem.
Israel will have to manage without Pnini in Estonia, with the Hapoel Holon forward remaining in Israel with his wife, who is due to give birth to their first child any day.
Israel will welcome back Tamir Blatt, who missed Friday’s game through injury, and Jake Cohen, who wasn’t available for the Great Britain clash as he played with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Thursday’s 83-69 loss to Unicaja Malaga in Euroleague action. Cohen failed to score any points in nine minutes. Maccabi, which fell to a 12-11 record, remained in eighth place in the standings, two games ahead of Baskonia Vitoria and Malaga, with each team having seven regular season games left to play.
Katash will become Jerusalem’s third coach of the season. Katash replaces Mody Maor, who was promoted from the assistant coach’s position following the firing of Fotis Katsikaris last November.
Maor, who had never previously served as a head coach, struggled to lift the roster.
Hapoel won only one of five Eurocup regular season games under his stewardship, just as it had done with Katsikaris, and failed to qualify for the Top 16.
Jerusalem was also knocked out in the semifinals of the State Cup two weeks ago by eventual winner Hapoel Holon and went 7-5 with Maor in the BSL, losing 88-79 to Ironi Ness Ziona in what proved to be his last game at the helm last Sunday.
Jerusalem’s first game with its new coach will be against Bnei Herzliya next Sunday.
This will be Katash’s second tenure with Hapoel after he guided the team in the 2010/11 campaign before resigning early in the subsequent season due to a poor run of results.