Hapoel JM 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Coach Dan Shamir and his Hapoel Jerusalem charges can keep the tags on their luggage - their European season is continuing. Thanks to a gutty 95-82 home victory over Alba Berlin Tuesday night - despite playing most of the game without center Mario Austin - Hapoel earned a third-place finish in the crazy Group C standings, with a 5-5 record.
It was often-maligned Jurica Golemac who stepped up big for Jerusalem. The rangy forward scored 16 points, had seven rebounds and passed for seven nifty assists, while playing tough defense (three steals) against Alba's bigger front line, to secure the hard-fought place for Hapoel in the next round.
There were many who didn't think they'd get there, especially after last week's deflating loss against Ostende.
"It's no secret we went through some hard times in this round of the ULEB Cup competition, but now it's behind us," a relieved Shamir said after the game. "All 10 games various players stepped up; today it was Goly [Golemac]. He gave us what he knows today. People talked about making changes, but there's no way I'd replace him."
Knowing it was a do-or-die game, Jerusalem looked determined from the outset. Austin led the way early, but the Germans - who also advanced to the next round - were equally determined, and led after a quarter, 26-22.
But Jerusalem crept back into the game behind Golemac and Meir Tapiro, the two picking up the offense when Austin went to the bench with his third foul with just under 4 minutes to play in the first half.
Whether they were playing the pick-and-roll to perfection or firing away from three-point range, the pair got the Hapoel offense clicking. Meanwhile, newly-acquired Terrence Morris was filling ably for Austin underneath. A steal by Morris and a pair of foul shots helped Jerusalem grab a 48-44 halftime advantage.
For once, even against a very athletic, big German squad, there were no easy baskets inside for the opposition, as Hapoel players stepped up all night to give a hard foul whenever necessary.
Golemac picked up where he left off in the second half, drilling a three-pointer to give Jerusalem a 53-46 lead. That ballooned to 10 moments later when Timmy Bowers dunked off a Golemac feed.
But former Hapoel guard William Ivory showed he's still familiar with the Malha court, drilling a three of his own, followed by one by Jerome Jenkins. Alba cut the lead to 63-60, then tied it at 64.
That's when it was back-up point guard Dror Hagag's turn to take the stage on an evening when Hapoel's entire cast contributed. Hagag hit a bomb to open up a three-point advantage. But it was his scrappy all-over-the-court play, including two steals, that sparked Jerusalem's late performance. Still, as the third quarter ended, the tense battle was knotted, 69-69.
Moments later, Jerusalem got a scare when Austin fell to the floor as he drove to the hoop. He was helped off the court. To add insult to injury, the drive resulted in his fifth foul. His medical situation was unclear after the game.
Morris, however, proved up to the task, hitting an important three and providing an important presence under the hoop, totaling 11 points and eight rebounds on the night.
A gorgeous drive by Hagag lifted Hapoel to a 78-75 lead with just over five minutes left, and they never looked back. For good measure, the Israel national team guard drilled yet another three to make it 84-77, and Jerusalem fans could heave a sigh of relief.
Captain Tapiro took over again, taking a pass from Golemac for a hoop, then drawing a series of fouls as the Germans tried frantically but unsuccessfully to get back in it.
Fittingly, Hagag hit another lay-up as the buzzer sounded, giving Jerusalem the 13-point win.
Jerusalem's opponent in the next round will be determined by lottery, but after a nerve-wracking, stomach-churning first stage of ULEB Cup play, fortune finally smiled on Hapoel Tuesday night.
Tapiro led Hapoel with 22 points and six assists, while Hagag had 16 and five rebounds. Bowers had 13 and Austin 12 early in Jerusalem's valiant effort.