Hapoel Jerusalem forward Lior Eliyahu (pictured above) scored a Eurocup season-high 20 points in last night’s 81-73 win over Nizhny Novgorod in Russia.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem ended its impressive Eurocup Top 16 campaign with an 81-73 victory at Nizhny Novgorod in Russia on Wednesday night, putting itself in an ideal position to make a deep run in the playoffs.
After already booking its place in the quarterfinals last week, Jerusalem made sure it did so from first place in Group G and secured home-court advantage in the best-of-three quarterfinal playoff series with a tougher-than-expected win over Nizhny. The 5-1 record with which Jerusalem finished the group could also end up being important, with home-court advantage in the best-of-three semifinal and final series to be decided by Top 16 records.
Jerusalem next faces the winner of the game between Spanish sides Gran Canaria Las Palmas and Fuenlabrada, which ended late Wednesday night.
The quarterfinals will be played from February 28 until March 8, with the first game and the third game, if necessary, to be played in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem wasn’t expected to encounter too much trouble against Nizhny, which had nothing to play for and entered the game on the back of four consecutive defeats by an average of 26.5 points per contest.
However, Novgorod led at the break (39-36) and Jerusalem only ultimately clinched the victory in the fourth quarter, registering its 11th win from the past 13 games over all competitions.
Lior Eliyahu led Hapoel with a season- high 20 points and seven rebounds in just 19 minutes. Amar’e Stoudemire added 19 points and nine boards, with Curtis Jerrells scoring 15 for Jerusalem, which won despite committing 23 turnovers.
Kenny Boynton and Deandre Kane had 18 points each for Nizhny, which was outrebounded 47-24. “The result of the game with Nizhny was very important for us as we wanted to take first place in the group,” said Jerusalem coach Simone Pianigiani.
“Before the game we knew that we needed to control the number of our mistakes, as we are very tired now. Despite the fact that Nizhny has a lot of injured players, it’s still a team that can score a lot of points. That’s why we tried to be very attentive in defense and take control of the game.”
Any illusion that Nizhny would give up without a fight was quickly dispelled, although Hapoel was doing itself no favors with its sloppiness.
Stoudemire continued his recent improved form, scoring 13 points in the first half, but 16 turnovers by the visitors meant that Nizhny took a three-point lead (39-36) into the break.
Jerusalem seized control of the encounter in the third quarter, moving ahead with an 11-0 run, with Brian Randle’s basket opening a seven-point margin (51- 44). Randle was making his debut for Jerusalem, playing a competitive game for the first time since the end of last season. The 32-year-old American forward, who apart from a six-month stint in Germany has played in Israel throughout his entire professional career, including at Jerusalem (2010-2012) and Maccabi Tel Aviv (2014- 2016), looked surprisingly sharp, ending the night with nine points in 14 minutes.
Jerusalem still led by seven points (58- 51) entering the final 10 minutes, but would allow the hosts within four points (61-57). Hapoel responded with an 8-0 run, including six points by Eliyahu, to clinch the victory and first place in Group G.