Israel guard Gal Mekel (7) is confident the blue-and-white will bounce back from the dejecting overtime defeat to Bosnia-Herzegovina when it faces Poland tonight in Montpellier, France..
(photo credit: CIAMILLO-CASTORIA/CERETTI/FIBA WEBSITE)
The first rest day of Group A of Euro- Basket 2015 couldn’t have come at a better time for Israel.
The heartbreaking overtime loss to Bosnia- Herzegovina in Montpellier, France, on Monday left the national team in shock and postponed its progress to the knockout rounds of the competition at least until Wednesday.
Israel faces Poland on Wednesday, with a victory by any scoreline to secure the blue-and-white a top-four finish and qualification for the Round of 16.
A win by three points or more will guarantee Israel a top-two finish, and turn Thursday’s showdown with undefeated group-favorite France into a clash for first place.
Israel would have happily settled for second place ahead of the championships after entering the competition with extremely low expectations. Second place will also likely ensure the team avoids meetings with the strong Spain and Serbia from Group B in the last 16.
Israel hasn’t progressed past the first round of the championships since 2007, winning just three games in total over the past three editions of the tournament.
Even should Erez Edelstein’s team lose to Poland and France and end the group with a 2-3 record, it will only fail to qualify for the next round should Finland win its final two games against Bosnia and Poland, while Bosnia also defeats Russia in their final contest.
Any other combination of results will see Israel finish among the top four.
Israel will be desperate for a win against Poland to help it quickly forget about the dejecting defeat to Bosnia after making such an encouraging start to the championships.
The blue-and-white led by as many as 16 points early in the third period on Monday, and despite allowing Bosnia to erase the entire deficit by the start of the fourth quarter, still had several opportunities to clinch the win and its place in the Round of 16 in the closing seconds of regulation.
However, Israel center D’or Fischer only hit one of two free-throw attempts twice in the final 10 seconds, when scoring both in either trip would have opened an effectively unassailable four-point gap, before Elmedin Kikanovic netted a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime.
Israel still seemed to be heading to a win after scoring the first seven points of the extra period, but Bosnia fought back once more and Kikanovic’s basket with 0.2 seconds remaining sent the blueand- white to a painful defeat.
Omri Casspi scored 29 points to take his average to a tournament-best 20.0 points per game. The Sacramento Kings forward is also averaging 7.7 rebounds per game, good enough for ninth place, and 4.0 assists.
Lior Eliyahu is ninth in points per game with 17.3, also averaging 5.3 assists per contest. Gal Mekel completes Israel’s big three with 13.7 points and 5.0 assists per encounter, with all three of the national team’s stars ranked among the top six players in minutes per game.
Casspi leads all players with 38.7 of average on-court time, with Mekel (34.0) in fourth and Eliyahu in sixth (32.7).
Fatigue may well have played its part against Bosnia, which was the team’s third game in as many days, and Mekel is hoping that the rest day will help the roster refill its tank ahead of Wednesday’s crucial showdown with Poland.
“The defeat to Bosnia was very frustrating as we were several seconds away from booking our place in the next round,” said Mekel. “But that is how it goes in tournaments. It certainly hurts, but we are strong. We need the rest day more than anything else and we will be ready to fight against Poland.”