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Hapoel Jerusalem hit a bump on the road to the ULEB Cup playoffs on Tuesday night at Malha. Now the reds must hope that it doesn't take them off course.
Lottomatica Roma led from start to finish in handing Jerusalem its first European home loss in over a year, 95-84. When Le Mans defeated Hapoel's next opponent, Dynamo Moscow, later in the evening, it ensured that Jerusalem would need to wait at least another week before advancing - and created a hypothetical situation where the 2004 ULEB Cup champs fail to reach the elimination rounds for the second year in a row. Hapoel is now 5-3, tied with Crvena Zvezda for second place. Le Mans in 4-4 and Roma 3-5. Winless Frankfurt Skyliners are in sixth. Only the top four teams at the end of the group stage advance.
David Hawkins and legend Dejan Bodiroga led a threepoint shooting barrage as the visitors shot 14-of-25 from beyond the arc. Hawkins finished with 23 points, while Bodiroga added 19.
Roger Mason Jr. scored 20 for Jerusalem, while Horace Jenkins added 16 points and Mario Austin had 13 points and 17 rebounds.
Things got bad quickly as Horace Jenkins turned the ball over on the first possession and then Hapoel proceeded to miss 10 of its first 11 shots, allowing Roma to race out to a 7-0 lead.
The Italians sharpshooting continued and the lead grew to double figures on a Marko Tusek three-point play. By the end of the period Lottomatica led 29-17.
The lead peaked at 19 during the second quarter and Roma held a 57-39 halftime advantage.
After a halftime scolding by coach Erez Edelstein, Jerusalem came out more focused and scored the first six points of the third period. Slowly but surely, Hapoel clawed its way back into the game behind some stellar play by Mason. and Austin. A wild Mason trifecta capped the team's strongest period as the hosts cut the lead to 64-61. But that would be as close as it would get.
Alex Righetti fired in a three and then made two free throws as Roma stretched the lead again. With four seconds left in the third, Hapoel tried to get Jenkins the ball for one last hoop, but it was batted away and Bodiroga scooped it up and somehow hit a 10-meter shot at the buzzer to give his side a 76-64 lead.
That shot seemed to devastate Hapoel's hopes and the reds never made a serious charge in the fourth quarter.
Edelstein remained calm despite the defeat. "I didn't go crazy when we won and I won't grieve over our losses. This is our first year together and that has its advantages and disadvantages... When teams figure out how to take us out of our game, they can beat us. We're not invincible," he summed up.
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