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(photo credit: AP)
Israel got off to the perfect start in its campaign to qualify for Eurobasket 2007 on Thursday night, defeating Bosnia-Herzegovina 88-81 in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The blue-and-white trailed the Bosnians for the entire first half but an excellent third quarter gave the Israelis a lead they wouldn't relinquish until the end of the game.
"Our defense wasn't good in the first half but we used a more defensive setup in the second half and stopped the Bosnians," coach Tzvika Sherf said after the game. "It's a very important win. Now we need to prepare for Macedonia and make sure we don't come to that match over confident."
Jamie Arnold starred for Israel in his first official match for the team, scoring 21 points and taking six rebounds. Guard Dror Hagag was a crucial factor in the team's third quarter defensive resurrection and also scored 18 points in 22 minutes of play.
The team will now travel to Macedonia for its second game on Sunday night against the local national team.
The four group winners of the qualifying groups and the two best second placed teams will qualify directly to EuroBasket 2007. The remaining 10 teams that don't qualify automatically will play in a last chance tournament from which one more team can book a place in the European championships.
Israel had no answers for Bosnia's three point shooting in the first quarter with coach Nenad Markovic's player's scoring a brilliant six of eight from beyond the arc.
Yaniv Green was the only player having any success at the start of the game and scored the blue-and-whites first five points. A three-pointer by Henry Domercant gave the visitors their first substantial lead of the game 15-10. A basket by Jamie Arnold tied the score at 17-17 but the Bosnians reopened the lead immediately. Israel's helpless defense could do nothing against the Bosnians three point shooting and the quarter ended in a 28-21 lead for the visitors.
The start of the second quarter saw the Bosnians increase their lead all the way to a 36-23 advantage.
The introduction of guard Dror Hagag improved Israel's defensive play and the team began to eat into the visitors lead. An unsportsmanlike foul by Feliks Kojadinovic gave the Israelis the chance to cut the lead to a meager four points. However Mirza Teletovic immediately scored a three pointer on the other side and maintained his teams comfortable lead.
Despite Israel's best efforts the team couldn't cut into the lead and the half ended in a 52-44 lead for the Bosnians.
Damir Mrsic and Teletovic combined for an amazing 8 of 9 from the three point range in the first half scoring 28 of their teams points.
Israel biggest disappointment of the first half was the poor play by Halperin who ended the half scoreless in only 10 minutes on the court.
Israel finally managed to dictate its style of play at the start of the third period and closed in on the Bosnians. After a first quarter of 28 points and a second quarter of 24 points, the hosts' defense held their opponents to measly nine points in the entire quarter and midway through the period grabbed the lead.
Eight points in a row by Arnold gave Israel a 62-59 lead and the team began to dominate its opponents. The Bosnians didn't even score one three pointer in the third period and was also poor under the baskets against Israel's big men. The blue-and-white won the quarter by 14 points and ended the third period with a 69-63 lead.
Hagag opened the last quarter with a three pointer and gave Israel its biggest lead of the game 72-63. The hosts continued to increase their lead and two minutes into the quarter led by as many as 10 points.
Just when the game seemed to be going Israel's way the visitors began to close the lead and only trailed by five points' midway through the quarter.
A three pointer by Matan Naor stopped Bosnia's momentum and gave Israel a 10 point lead once again.
The Bosnians continued to remain within touching distance of the Israelis but two important baskets by Hagag put the team beyond reach.