Israel crashed out of the Eurobasket on Thursday night as it fell to the host Czech Republic 88-77 to end what was ultimately a disappointing campaign for the blue-and-white in Prague.
Guy Goodes’s charges came out flat yet again in the decisive final game of Group D, falling behind early and often as they continually had to try and dig out of a deficit.
Czech captain Vojtech Hruban played a crucial role in the first half, along with Tomas Satoransky, to give their Israeli coach Ronen “Neno” Ginzburg a 53-37 lead at the half.
Deni Avdija, Yam Madar, Rafi Menco and Tomer Ginat all out the pedal to the metal in the third quarter to cut the Czech lead to just five points (67-62) with 10 minutes remaining, but Hruban hit some huge shots down the stretch to close out the game and send Israel packing.
Madar scored 16 points, Ginat put in 15 points while Avdija added 12 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists in the crushing defeat.
Hruban led Czechia with 25 points, Jan Vesely added 16 points while Satoransky scored 14 points, pulled down eight boards and dished out 11 assists.
Reflections on the loss
The veteran Mekel reflected on the loss.
“We are disappointed and sad also. This is not how we wanted to finish this week, but this is basketball. We made some mistakes and we paid for them and unfortunately we are not going to the next round.”
The blue-and-white came into Thursday’s contest fully aware that whichever would win the clash would head to Germany for the last-16 while the other team would go home.
Israel’s record heading into the final 40 minutes of the group stages in Prague was 2-2 – with two wins to open the tournament against Finland in overtime and Holland – which was followed by a pair of defeats against Poland and then Serbia.
The O2 Arena in the suburbs was close to sold out with a partisan crowd that definitely played a factor for the hosts as only a few hundred Israeli fans were in the stands for the game.
Israel opened the game with Avdija and Madar along with Gal Mekel, Guy Pnini and Roman Sorkin, while the Czechs were led by Satoransky, who had been nursing an ankle injury, and veteran big man Jan.
Vesely opened the scoring while Pnini went from deep twice to get the first quarter under way and the teams seams evenly matched early on.
However, Satoransky, Hruban and Ondrej Balvin put in some key hoops to give Czechia a 26-17 lead after the first frame.
Hruban continued to pound the paint and the hosts extended their lead to 39-27 with 5:30 left in the first half, which they extended to 53-37 advantage by halftime in a game that appeared to be getting away from the Israelis.
But Menco went from downtown to get the third quarter under way, and Avdija anchored the blue-and-white attack as the Czechs’ lead was cut to 58-50 midway through the stanza.
Madar went to the hoop for a bucket, Avdija gave a cutting Ginat a perfect pass, Nimrod Levi added points to tighten things up considerably, before Vesely hit a turnaround on the baseline to keep Czechia ahead 67-62 after 30 minutes.
Avdija and Satoransky traded triples to begin the fourth quarter. Then, the hosts found their shooting touch as Vesely added a jumper, Hruban nailed a corner three-ball and an off-balance jumper in the key to bump the Czechia lead up to 77-65 with 7:10 remaining in regulation time.
Israel kept things interesting until the final two minutes, with Avdija trying to will the team to a furious comeback, but Hruban was just too much for Israel on this night as he led the Czech Republic to victory and sent the blue-and-white packing.
A tearful Goodes also spoke about the stunning defeat, especially on the heels of such a positive start to the campaign.
“We started the tournament with two great wins over Finland and Holland and we knew that if we beat Poland we would qualify. Serbia is Serbia and then against the host Czech Republic we didn’t start off playing good defense. If we played as we did in the second half, we could have won.”