Early must-win challenge for Jerusalem

With just one win from first four Eurocup games, Hapoel can’t afford anything but victory vs Vilnius.

Derwin Kitchen (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Derwin Kitchen
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Hapoel Jerusalem will only reach the halfway mark of its Eurocup regular season campaign on Wednesday night, but it already finds itself in a desperate situation when it hosts Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius at the Jerusalem Arena.
Hapoel dropped to a 1-3 record following last week’s 83-74 loss in Romania to CSU Ploiesti and another defeat on Wednesday will leave it in serious danger of missing out on a top-four finish in Group E and a berth in the Last 32.
After opening its Eurocup campaign with two tight defeats, Hapoel finally got off the mark by edging Partizan Belgrade 82-79. However, it yet again failed to close out a close game in continental competition versus Ploiesti after falling to Banvit Bandirma by four points in the opener before Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd eked out a 79-78 win at the Jerusalem Arena.
Vilnius, Bandirma and Ploiesti lead the group at 3-1, but Jerusalem is still only one game back of Volgograd in fourth place.
However, with Jerusalem to play three of its final four regular season games on the road, it can’t afford anything but home wins against Vilnius and Banvit in its upcoming games.
Jerusalem enters Wednesday’s game on the back of yet another easy BSL win, thrashing Bnei Herzliya 93-62 on Sunday to move to 6-0. Hapoel took its average margin of victory in local action to 22.3 points per game.
“Our guys are really disappointed with the way we have been playing in Europe and it is not a given that they make sure they are sharp and aggressive in the BSL,” said Jerusalem coach Danny Franco.
“The level of play in the Eurocup is completely different to the BSL. Nothing from Sunday is going to help us on Wednesday.
We all know we need to play better and we really want to win to maintain our hopes of qualifying.”
Despite losing to Ploiesti by 20 points in Romania, Rytas has been in impressive form so far this season. The Lithuanians’s three wins to date have come by at least 12 points, including a 92-80 victory over the strong Banvit last week. Gediminas Orelik led the Lithuanians with 27 points, taking his average for the season to a teamhigh 16.0 points per game. The 24-year-old forward has been almost unstoppable, hitting 68.8 percent of his two-point attempts and an average of 2.5 three-pointers per contest at 45.5 percent.
One of the biggest disappointments for Jerusalem so far has been the play of Tony Gaffney.
The American forward, who is averaging just 6.0 points in the Eurocup, believes the team’s struggles in the competition are mostly psychological.
“We are all aware of how important the Eurocup is to this club,” he said. “We just have to take one game at a time and play with the same mentality that we have been showing in the BSL. I think we are placing too much pressure on ourselves in the Eurocup and we need to enter the game with a different attitude.”
Hapoel guard Yotam Halperin is averaging a solid 11.7 points and 4.3 assists in the Eurocup to date. However, Jerusalem lost last week despite Halperin’s best showing of the season, which included 15 points and four assists.
“We are still lacking in some aspects and that has cost us in Europe so far,” explained the Israeli guard. “We have to win this game. We can’t afford to lose another home encounter.”