al Mekel (left) and coach Zan Tabak (right)..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s nightmare season got even more depressing on Wednesday night after it was knocked out of the Eurocup with a 95-84 overtime defeat to Nizhny Novgorod in a do-or-die showdown at Yad Eliyahu Arena.
Maccabi was relegated to the Eurocup after it was sent packing from the Euroleague prior to the Top 16 for the first time in club history earlier this season.
The yellow-and-blue’s coach and players said they believe they can win the competition, but failed to even make it through one round, losing a fourth consecutive game on Wednesday to fall to 2-4 and finish in third place in Group M.
Maccabi, which was crowned European champion less than two years ago, knew it had to win in order to advance, but it trailed for much of the night before forcing overtime, only to capitulate in the extra period.
Nizhny clinched the victory and its place in the round of 16 with a 14-0 run.
Maccabi was playing for plenty of pride, as well as a place in the next round, entering the game on the back of its worst-ever defeat in local action, a 35-point humbling at the hands of Maccabi Haifa in the BSL on Saturday night.
It welcomed back the injured Devin Smith, Trevor Mbakwe and Brian Randle on Wednesday after all three missed the game in Haifa and the Eurocup loss at Olimpija Ljubljana last week. However, Maccabi was still unable to claim the crucial win, adding another sad chapter to a dejecting campaign.
Gal Mekel led Maccabi with 21 points, with Mbakwe adding 13 points and 11 boards for the yellow- and-blue, which shot 4-of-25 (16%) from three-point range.
Victor Rudd led five Nizhny players in double figures with 22 points.
A Dimitriy Khvostov three at the first-quarter buzzer gave the visitors a four-point edge (27-23) after 10 minutes and Novogord was still ahead at the break after scoring the final six points of the first half (47-41).
The Russians opened a double- digit margin for the first time (59-49) midway through the third frame following Rudd’s basket.
Maccabi never gave up the chase though, taking its first lead in the second half after Mbakwe’s basket with 15 seconds to play in the quarter capped a 13-2 run that gave the hosts a 66-64 advantage.
Semen Anotonov ensured the score was tied (66-66) entering the final 10 minutes and Nizhny carried the momentum into the final period, with an Antonov three from way behind the arc opening a seven-point cushion (73-66).
It took Maccabi almost six minutes to score its first field goal of the fourth quarter, but it slowly ate away at the deficit, with Smith’s triple with 49 seconds remaining bringing the hosts within two points (81-79).
Mekel tied the score (81-81) from the free-throw line with 12.5 seconds left after grabbing an offensive board and the game went to overtime following Rudd’s miss at the buzzer.
But Maccabi couldn’t make the most of its second opportunity, with Smith scoring the first point of the extra period from the line before Nizhny netted 14 in a row, establishing a lead which sealed Tel Aviv’s fate.
Hapoel Jerusalem also completed its Last 32 games on Wednesday when it visited Gran Canaria.
Jerusalem, which entered the game at 0-5 and had already lost hope of progressing two weeks ago, trailed by 19 points (31-12) after the first quarter of a game which ended after press time.