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Strong guard play has given the national men's under-20 basketball team the best possible start after two games at the U20 European Championship in Izmir, Turkey.
Yogev Ohayon scored 22 and keyed a clutch 17-2 run to turn the game around on the way to a 72-68 victory over Hungary on Saturday, and Nitzan Hanochi had 15, including the game-winning layup with four seconds to go, in Friday's 66-64 thriller against Italy.
Coach Ya'acov Gino's side will advance to the quarterfinals from first place in Group B with a win over Slovenia on Sunday. However, an Israeli loss coupled with an Italian win over Hungary would create a three-way tie atop the group. Only the top two teams from each group advance to the quarters.
Israel came out flat on Saturday and trailed the weaker Hungarians 45-30 at halftime. The lead grew to as many as 17 early in the third period before Ohayon sparked the turnaround that brought his team to within a basket at the end of the third.
Hungary - led by center Norbert T th, who finished with 22 points and eight rebounds - kept his team in the game for much of the final period until Yoni Nir's basket with 1:53 remaining made it 67-65 and gave Israel the lead for good.
A T th three-point play in the last minute kept Hungary within one, but good defense down the stretch and clutch free-throw shooting from Niv Berkowitz - son of Maccabi Tel Aviv legend Mickey - sealed the win.
Ohayon had five assists and four steals to go along with his team-high in points. Forward Elishay Kadir added 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The flow of play was quite different Saturday, as Israel blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead before finally subduing the tough Italians.
Nir scored 14 and grabbed seven boards. Ohayon added 11 points and four assists in that game.
Israel has traditionally fared well at the U-20s, reaching the title game before losing in both 2000 and '04.