Hapoel Jerusalem forward Donta Smith had 14 points and nine rebounds in his team’s 82-78 win over AEK Athens at the Jerusalem Pais Arena, December 9, 2015.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem’s hopes of reaching the Last 32 of the Eurocup are still alive following Wednesday night’s 82-78 win over AEK Athens at the Jerusalem Arena.
However, the Israeli champion still doesn’t have its fate in its own hands entering its final group game at rock-bottom Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd next week.
Jerusalem led almost from start to finish on Wednesday, but had to survive a dramatic ending to overcome Athens and move ahead of the Greeks in Group F by virtue of its superior head-to-head record, with both teams at 4-5.
Jerusalem climbed up to fourth place in the group, which is good enough to qualify for the next round. However, even should it win in Volgograd next week its progress is not guaranteed following Nizhny Novgorod’s 82-75 loss to Neptunas Klaipeda on Wednesday.
If Jerusalem wins in Russia, Nizhny loses at home to group leader Galatasaray and AEK beats Neptunas in Greece, then Hapoel will finish in fifth place. Hapoel, Nizhny and AEK will all finish with a 5-5 record, but the Israelis will not qualify due to their overall inferior head-to-head record against the Russians and Greeks.
Hapoel can also advance if it loses in Volgograd as long as AEK falls at home to Neptunas.
“We had to win this game and it isn’t easy to play in such a situation,” said Jerusalem coach Danny Franco. “Our job is to win next week and we need to avoid an upset. If we end the group with five wins and fail to advance we will be very disappointed, but that is life. We only need to focus on our next game.”
Lior Eliyahu led Jerusalem with 22 points and eight rebounds, with E.J.
Rowland having 17 points and seven assists, Matt Janning adding 16 points and Donta Smith finishing with 14 points and nine boards.
Loukas Mavrokefalidis had 16 points and nine rebounds for AEK.
“We could have won by a bigger margin but this is good enough,” said Eliyahu.
“We were under a lot of pressure before the game but we did our job.
Things could have been different had I not missed games through injury earlier in the season, but there is nothing we can do about that now. We now need to win our final game and pray.”
Eliyahu scored 10 of Jerusalem’s first 16 points, helping Hapoel to a fivepoint lead (16-11). Yotam Halperin scored all nine of his points in the first quarter, giving Jerusalem a double-digit margin (31-20) with the final basket of the period.
However, Hapoel was held scoreless for more than five minutes in the second quarter and the visitors closed within five points (35-30). Two three-pointers by Janning ended the drought, but Jerusalem was ahead by just six points (43- 37) entering the break.
Jerusalem scored the first five points of the final frame to reestablish a double- digit gap, but AEK remained within striking distance with 10 minutes to play (61-55). The game would ultimately be decided in the final minute, with Mavrokefalidis bringing the visitors within two points (80-78) with 49 seconds remaining. Rowland turned over the ball at the other end with 13 seconds to play, but Halperin came to his rescue by immediately snatching it back from Giannis Kalampokis and Smith scored two easy points to clinch the crucial victory.