Lior Eliyahu fights for a ball with Croatia's Sand.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel pushed Croatia all the way in its
EuroBasket opener on Monday, but was eventually edged 86-79 in Poznan,
Poland by a superiorly talented team.
Lior Eliyahu fights for a ball with Croatia's Sandro Nicevic.
struggling in the first half, Israel trailed by just five points
(42-37) at the break and surged into the lead in the third quarter. The
game remained tight throughout the second half, but the Croats were
better at the crucial moments.
The national team can not afford to lick its wounds for long as
on Tuesday it faces Macedonia in a game which will likely determine if
it advances to the next round.
Three of the four teams in the group will progress to the
second group stage, so a single victory against Macedonia could well
prove to be enough to ensure the side is still playing in the second
week of the European Championships.
"We need to lift ourselves because this is a
disappointing loss," coach Tzvika Sherf said. "The game against
Macedonia is nothing like the one against Croatia. We need to be ready
and win the game in any way possible."
Lior Eliyahu was superb on Monday, hitting 13 of 17 shots on
his way to a career-best 31 points. Point guard Gal Mekel had an
outstanding debut, scoring 16 points and controlling Israel's offense.
Kozikaro and Tal Burstein added 12 and 10 points, respectively, but the
team was always going to struggle to win with Yotam Halperin scoring
just five points.
Former Maccabi Tel Aviv star Nikola Vujcic led Croatia with 21
points, with guards Roko Ukic, Marko Popovic and Davor Kus each scoring
"We played well and made the Croats look bad," said Kozikaro.
"However, the better team won and we now need to focus on the
game against Macedonia. We knew this would be a key game and we must
The Croats began the game with a hot hand from beyond the arc
and led 6-0 within the first minute after two three-pointers. Kozikaro,
who scored all his 12 points in the first half, was keeping Israel in
the game and one his baskets closed the gap to 11-8.
However, the national team paid a dear price for its poor
rebounding and Nikola Vujcic's three-point move opened an 11 point
margin (23-12).Croatia began to lose its scoring touch as the half
progressed, but remained comfortably in front thanks to 13 offensive
rebounds in the first two periods.
Six straight Eliyahu points, capped by an elegant dunk, brought
Israel within four points (33-29), and despite its under par defense
and rebounding, Sherf's men were down by only five points at the break
Halperin's three gave the team its first lead of the night early in the third (50-48) and Burstein's triple opened a 55-51 lead.
Vujcic came to his team's rescue when it needed him most, and
his 14th point of the night made sure the score was tied at 59-59
entering the final period.
The lead traded hands at the beginning of the fourth quarter, with Eliyahu
Mekel the stars of the show for Israel. However, Marko Popovic was
unstoppable at the other end and maintained Croatia's slender lead
throughout the period.
Eliyahu edged the team within one possession with just under a
minute to play (80-77), but that was as close as Israel would come and
the team will have to rebound from the loss when it plays Macedonia on