Hapoel Jerusalem Tre Simmons.
(photo credit: BSL)
Hapoel Jerusalem pulled out a critical 82-73 win over Russian side Unics Kazan in the Eurocup on Tuesday night, giving the Israeli squad a significant boost in its chances of qualifying for the quarterfinals.
Former Maccabi Tel Aviv center Maciej Lampe was outstanding for the visitors, scoring 30 points in 34 minutes, but it was not enough to stop Jerusalem from holding on for the all-important nine-point victory margin.
After losing by seven points in Russia two weeks ago, Jerusalem’s players knew they needed to win by at least eight points in case qualification comes down to a head-to-head comparison.
A win in Valencia next week should clinch qualification for the Israelis.
“It was a very tight game, they’re a good team. We needed it,” Hapoel’s Brandon Hunter told The Jerusalem Post
in the locker room.
“We just lost in the Israeli league and we came out aggressive. The key to the victory was team play.”
Jerusalem came into the game on the back of a heartbreaking home defeat to Hapoel Holon in the BSL at the weekend. But rather than hurting his team’s confidence, coach Guy Goodes said he believed the defeat served as a wake-up call.
“At the end of the day we saw that the defeat to Holon helped us. The team needed to wake up,” Goodes said. “We played with a lot of heart and soul and we succeeded in stopping their guards. I am happy we beat Kazan, a fantastic team. I have to give credit to the entire team, which played hard and fought well.”
Yogev Ohayon put in another superb performance for Jerusalem, scoring a team-leading 19 points and defending well against Kazan’s experienced Croatian guard Marko Popovic, who ended with 13 points after getting nine in the first half.
Unics coach Valdemaras Chomicius was clearly disappointed, but stressed that he hadn’t given up hope of advancing to the next stage.
“They played great today but we made a lot of mistakes,” Chomicius said.
“We played better in offense there [two weeks ago]. They beat us too many times one on one. There is always a chance to qualify. We must win two games and we will see.”
The home team came out of the blocks on fire as Kevinn Pinkney got Jerusalem going with a thunderous dunk which set the tone for what was to come.
Another dunk from Hunter followed by a powerful offensive rebound by the former Boston Celtics power forward which showed who was in control in the opening moments.
While Jerusalem stayed on top, two straight threes from Popovic kept Kazan within striking difference and the score sat at 12-10 for the hosts.
Jerusalem held its nose ahead in an intense first quarter which ended 20-17 and came out firing on all cylinders in the second to open up a nine-point lead (28-19) after a Kazan turnover ended with a Yogev Ohayon basket.
Lampe came into his own in the second stanza, scoring twice in a row to give his team some hope, while Popovic seemed practically unstoppable from three-point range.
However, Sharon Shason also found his range in the second period, and Jerusalem kept the visitors at bay, going into half time comfortably ahead 41-32.
Kazan began the third period stronger than the hosts, closing the gap to just six points, but Hapoel was not to be left behind, with another Shason three-pointer regaining a 10-point lead (48-38).
Some poor decision making on the attack left Jerusalem only ahead by seven points (60-53) going into the final quarter, but then the hosts took over.
A stunning Naimi treble with 7:10 on the clock moved Jerusalem gave a 12-point advantage (67-55) and hopes were raised of a significant victory.
And, despite some short lapses, the home team proved its worth, hanging on for the big win, underlined by Hunter’s flying right handed slam dunk to put Jerusalem ahead 76-64 1:22 from the end.
Even then Kazan wasn’t done yet, pulling back in the final seconds, but the Russians were unable to close the gap as much as they would have liked to.
Lampe appeared forlorn after the game, but paid tribute to the always noisy Malha crowd.
“We lost on rebounds and that was the key as well as messing up on defense on the rotations,” he said. “It’s a tough place to play. Playing in a loud arena is something new for us. We just have to keep on working, it’s going to be tough for us. We have to be positive and look forward.”