Omri Casspi at EuroBasket 2017..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Israel got EuroBasket 2017 off to the worst possible start on Thursday night, being dominated in a 69-48 defeat to Italy at Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv.
The national team entered the European Championships with high hopes, being chosen as a co-host of the tournament for the first time and winning nine of its 11 tune-up games this summer. But the blue-and- white never seemed comfortable on Thursday, looking out of its depth at stages against an Italy roster missing arguably its biggest stars in Andrea Bargnani and Danilo Gallinari.
Italy seized control of the contest from the start, dictating its style of play and frustrating the blue-and-white on offense.
Omri Casspi kept Israel in the game in the first half, scoring 13 points that left the hosts within four points (36-32). But he couldn’t do it all by himself, with Italy cruising to the victory in the second half. Israel’s helplessness was best epitomized by the fact that it went without a field goal for more than 15 minutes to end the game, scoring 16 points in total in the third and fourth quarters.
The last time Israel scored less points in an international game was almost 50 years ago in a 68-44 defeat to France in May 1968.
Casspi was Israel’s only player to finish the game in double-figures, scoring 18 points. Israel hit just 1-of-14 attempts from beyond the arc.
Marco Belinelli had 18 points for Italy, with Luigi Datome adding 16 points.
Israel had no answer for Belinelli in the first half, with the Atlanta Hawks guard hitting five three-pointer from seven attempts. Israel’s entire roster only scored a single triple in the first two quarters, missing six of its seven shots.
Italy led by as many as 10 points (25-15) after scoring the first four points of the second quarter, but Casspi and Mekel ensured the hosts never lost touch, closing within four points (36-32) at the break.
However, Italy only strengthened its hold on the contest in the second half, taking a double-digit cushion into the final 10 minutes after holding the blue-and-white to nine points in the third frame.
Israel looked lost against the Italy defense and even though the visitors only managed 15 points for a second straight quarter, it was more than enough to increase their gap.
Israel never came close to mounting a comeback in the fourth quarter, with Italy effectively clinching the win by the midway point of the period after Datome’s three-pointer opened a 14-point margin (60-46).
Israel won’t have long to wallow over Thursday’s loss, with Lithuania its next opponent on Saturday. The blue-and-white then faces Germany on Sunday, comes up against Georgia on Tuesday and wraps up its group games against Ukraine on Wednesday.
The top four teams from each of the four groups will progress to the knockout rounds.
Lithuania entered the tournament as the favorite in Group B, but it will be especially desperate to win on Saturday after being surprised 79-77 by Georgia on Thursday.
Lithuania led by 12 points in the second quarter, but the Georgians closed within five points (39-34) by halftime and held their composure better in the second half to avenge their loss from EuroBasket 2015.
Tornike Shengelia scored 29 points for Georgia, with Mindaugas Kuzminskas leading Lithuania with 18 points. Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas was held to just nine points.
In other group action, Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroder led Germany to a 75-63 win over Ukraine, finishing with 32 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Ukraine held Germany to just nine points in the first 10 minutes, but the Germans bounced back with 30 points in the second period and led until the finish.
Germany plays Georgia on Saturday, with Italy to face Ukraine.