Israel national team players (from left) Amit Simhon, Shawn Dawson and Oz Blayzer.
(photo credit: RUSSIA BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION)
Even with Omri Casspi, Gal Mekel and Yogev Ohayon all out injured, the Israel national team remained perfect in tune-up action ahead of EuroBasket 2017 on Sunday, claiming an impressive 79-71 win over Russia in St. Petersburg.
After beating Romania twice in three days last weekend and defeating Finland in St. Petersburg on Saturday, the blue-and-white faced its toughest test to date this summer against Russia.
The encounter was all the more challenging as team captain Casspi didn’t travel with the roster to Russia due to groin pain and guards Mekel and Ohayon were ruled out shortly before the start of the contest. Mekel will undergo an MRI on his knee when the team returns home to check the source of the swelling that has limited him, while the seriousness of Ohayon’s leg muscle injury will be examined by ultrasound.
Considering the absence of the three, two of which are expected to be starters, it was hardly surprising Israel found itself in an early double-digit deficit (17-6). But the blue-and-white surged back to tie the score with an 11-0 run and built on the momentum in the second period, taking a 10-point gap (39-29) into the break. Israel never lost control, remaining in front until the final buzzer to move to 4-0.
Shawn Dawson led the team with 18 points, with Lior Eliyahu scoring 10.
“To beat Russia in Russia without the players we were missing today just shows that with team play, a system and players who are willing to sacrifice for each other you can make up for anything,” said Israel coach Erez Edelstein. “This is only the beginning of our preparations, but we are building on what we have done in the past three years.”
Next up for the blue-and-white are two games against Great Britain at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv. Israel will face the Brits in a closed scrimmage on Saturday and the sides will meet once more in front of fans on Sunday night.
The national team will play 10 warm-up games in total ahead of the start of the European Championships, which will be held in Israel for the first time between August 31 and September 6.