Israel takes step forward in FIBA qualifying

Well-balanced rout of Estonia sends blue-and-white to 2nd round • Finland, Sweden up next.

ISRAEL TEAMMATES celebrate on the court at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv after beating Estonia  96-77 to advance to the next round of FIBA World Cup qualifying. (photo credit: BERNEY ARDOV)
ISRAEL TEAMMATES celebrate on the court at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv after beating Estonia 96-77 to advance to the next round of FIBA World Cup qualifying.
(photo credit: BERNEY ARDOV)

The Israel National Team advanced to the second round of World Cup qualifying as it trounced Estonia 96-77 at the Drive-In Arena on Sunday night.

The blue-and-white overpowered the visitors with stifling defense over the second half as Guy Goodes’s squad held the advantage in rebounds, assists and fast-break points while sporting five players in double-digits.

Following Israel’s disappointing 90-85 overtime loss in Poland last week, Goodes was under tremendous pressure to win at home in order to move onto the following stage of qualifying. However, once Germany disposed of Poland 93-83 midway through Israel’s game, both the blue-and-white and Estonia were assured of advancing and it would just be a matter of placement in the next round.

Yovel Zoosman had the hot hand early on for Israel, but Estonia came storming back in the second quarter with three-pointers aplenty to take a short-lived lead.

However, inside scoring by Roman Sorkin gave the blue-and-white a four-point advantage (48-44) after 20 minutes.

 GUY GOODES has the Israel National Team ready and confident for its upcoming pair of FIBA World Cup qualifying games against Poland and Estonia.  (credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN) GUY GOODES has the Israel National Team ready and confident for its upcoming pair of FIBA World Cup qualifying games against Poland and Estonia. (credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)

The third quarter saw captain Gal Mekel begin to slice and dice the Estonian defense to help the hosts to a 24-13 frame, including a 10-0 run, to end the period ahead 72-57.

Tomer Ginat, Nimrod Levi, Rafi Menco and Sorkin polished off the visitors over the course of the final 10 minutes to outpace and overwhelm the visitors to notch the convincing win.

Goodes’s men will now take the month off and reconvene at the beginning of August when they will begin to prepare for both the first window of the second round of World Cup qualifying and then head off to Prague for the 2022 Eurobasket.

During the first window of the second round of games – where the records from the first round of qualifying carryover – Israel (3-3) will head to Finland (5-1), where it will tip-off against Cleveland Cavaliers star Lauri Markkanen, and then will host Sweden (2-4) back in the Holy Land.

Israel will also play Slovenia (4-2) without Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic as those games will take place in November and February while the forward will be plying his trade in the NBA.

However, Israel will be missing no less than eight key components to its team during those windows due to not only the NBA but the Euroleague as well. Deni Avdija will be with the Washington Wizards, while Zoosman, Sorkin, Tamir Blatt, Yam Madar, Guy Pnini, John DiBartolomeo and Iftach Ziv are all part of Euroleague rosters.

Rounding out the group of six is Germany (5-1) and Estonia (2-4) – whom Israel just faced and will not play again – as the top three teams will advance to the 2023 World Cup which will be held in Japan, Philippines and Indonesia.

“I want to congratulate the team for a great game,” Goodes said after Sunday’s victory. “We knew that this was a game where our backs were against the wall. But these are the games you live for – knockout games. We had a good approach and started the game strong. We came into the third quarter focusing on our defense after having allowed Estonia to hit five three-pointers in the second quarter. We are happy for the crowd that we were here for them and that we were able to advance to the playoff round.”

“We knew that this was a game where our backs were against the wall. But these are the games you live for – knockout games."

Guy Goodes

“Congrats to Israel as they deserved to win,” Estonia coach Jukka Toijala said. “Congrats also to the both of us as we qualified for the next round. We saw very different windows during this round of qualifying and today we didn’t have physical power to fight. We lost the rebounds and fast breaks and the 10-0 run at the end of the third quarter by Israel really was the end of the game for us.”

Zoosman, who spurred Israel to its quick start early on, reflected on the game.

“We played good basketball and we gave a good effort. We played happy basketball, shared the ball and we enjoyed the game along with doing the small things. We played tougher [than in Poland] and when you score 96 points it helps a lot. The crowd was amazing and it’s a totally different story when you play at home than on the road.”

Game highlights

Ginat led the way with 17 points, Sorkin added 16 points, Zoosman scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Mekel scored eight points, pulled down seven boards and dished out six assists in the victory.

Maik-Kalev Kotsar paced Estonia with 13 points while Janari Joesaar and Kristjan Kitsing each had 12 points apiece in the loss.

Idan Zalmanson opened the scoring on the inside while Zoosman added a three-pointer from the outside to get Israel on the board.

Ginat made a nifty move in the paint after taking a deft pass from Zoosman and then followed it up with a dunk to take a 9-4 lead midway through the first quarter. Kristian Kullamae went from deep for Estonia, while Mekel and Sorkin found easy points in key in response.

Rauno Nurger came back with a jumper for the visitors, but Zoosman drilled his second triple and Mekel fed a cutting Timor on the baseline for Goodes’s squad.

Zoosman sent a high-arcing shot from the corner for yet another three-pointer, Sander Raieste and Kotsar scored to keep Toijala’s squad close.

Levi went from downtown before Mekel cut to the basket for a floater and added one off the glass as time expired for a 29-22 Israel lead after 10 thrilling minutes of play.

Kullamae and Kitsing each dialed up long distance to begin the second quarter while DiBartolomeo did the same at the other end of the court. But Kitsing nailed another one from deep as did Janari Joesaar to give Estonia a 37-36 lead with 5:50 left in the first half.

Sorkin dunked out of a timeout, Blatt went from beyond the arc, Joesaar and Kaspar Treier scored at the other end, but Sorkin scored at the halftime buzzer to give the blue-and-white the four-point advantage heading into the break.

Levi and Menco got the third quarter rolling with a triple apiece from deep, Kotsar came back with a trio of baskets and Blatt went from deep to keep Israel ahead 60-52 midway through the frame.

Kullamae and Ginat traded buckets, Mekel fed Ginat with a behind the back pass for the three-pointer to give the finish off a 10-0 run and give the hosts a 72-57 lead after thirty minutes of action.

Ginat put in an easy pair of baskets to begin the fourth quarter, Sorkin scored a couple inside as well with the second a reverse dunk. Then Menco drilled home a corner three-ball while Madar joined the party with a floater to help wrap up a tidy, 19-point victory.