With the help of an electric home crowd, Hapoel Jerusalem used a near-flawless second quarter to overpower Besiktas Cola Turka 88-73 on Tuesday night. The victory puts Jerusalem in a good position for when the team travels to Turkey next week for the return leg of the final 32 series with Besiktas in the ULEB Cup playoffs.
"[The 15-point victory] should be enough, but we're not going to worry about that," said Ramel Curry, who scored 10 of his 12 points during the crucial second stanza. "We're going to try to get the win."
Following a sloppy opening quarter by both teams, which featured 13 total turnovers, the score stood tied at 13-13. The recurring unlucky number would prove ominous for Besiktas.
Jerusalem came out firing on all cylinders, taking the lead and doing everything it could to extend it. With 5:07 remaining in the first half, Sharon Sasson dished the ball off to forward Jamie Arnold, who hit the layup while getting fouled. His free throw put Jerusalem ahead 32-21.
Jerusalem's 19-point flurry in the first five minutes of the quarter energized the crowd, which seemed to get louder with each basket.
The fever pitch went through the roof when Dror Hajaj knocked down a wide open three-pointer with just under four minutes to play in the half to break the game open at 37-23. But the crowd wanted more and Hajaj was not one to disappoint. On the next trip down the court, he nailed another three, bringing the score to 40-23.
Besiktas, which was the only club to finish the ULEB Cup regular season undefeated, used a mini-run to cut the deficit to 14 going into the half, 43-29.
The visitors opened the second half with an easy basket before Guy Pnini took the game into his own hands. Pnini responded with a three-pointer to stretch the lead to 46-31. Following a long two from point guard Dror Hajaj, Pnini drilled another three to give Jerusalem an improbable 20-point lead with 7:36 to play in the quarter.
Every time Besiktas seemed poised to make a run, they ran into Pnini instead. Literally. After his third three-pointer of the quarter, Pnini took charge on the defensive end, which reminded the crowd to play its part.
A minute later, Pnini caught the ball in the right corner, and, without setting his feet, hit a dagger of a three while getting fouled. His free throw gave Jerusalem its largest lead of the match, 63-41.
The only thing stopping Pnini during the third quarter was himself.
With two minutes to play, he motioned to head coach Dan Shamir to replace him.
Another mini-run by Besiktas closed the gap, barely, as the teams headed into the final stanza with the score 66-50.
To open the final quarter, Besiktas finally put together a legitimate - and expected - run. Preston Shumpter hit a big three-pointer to cut the lead to 69-59, deflating the crowd and stealing the momentum.
When Curry traveled on Jerusalem's next possession, everybody seemed to be thinking about the recent State Cup final, during which Maccabi Tel Aviv blew a late 22-point lead.
But the similarities ended there, as the visitors failed to cut the deficit to single digits on the following offensive set.
Arnold, who had a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds, would not be denied down the stretch. He scored 10 points over the final seven minutes, capped off by an emphatic one-handed slam dunk to return Jerusalem's lead back to 20 with 3:35 to play.
"They were the better team," said Rick Apodaca, who led the visitors with 23 points.
As long as Jerusalem loses by 14 points or less next week against the same team, they will advance to the Round of 16.
"I'm happy with the position we took," Shamir said after the game.