Hapoel Jerusalem looks for fresh start at home

After going just 1-4 in first round of Eurocup group games, Reds face Banvit eyeing top-4 finish.

Joseph Jones (photo credit: DOR KEDMI)
Joseph Jones
(photo credit: DOR KEDMI)
Despite claiming just a single win from its first five Eurocup regular season games, Hapoel Jerusalem coach Danny Franco remains confident his side can progress to the Last 32 ahead of Wednesday’s showdown with Banvit Bandirma at the Jerusalem Arena.
Hapoel’s start to the campaign went from bad to worse last week, with Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius of Lithuania dominating in Jerusalem on the way to an 81-70 victory.
Jerusalem’s three previous defeats in the competition came by relatively small margins and were only decided in the fourth quarters.
However, Hapoel was well and truly outplayed by Vilnius and finds itself in a precarious position at the halfway mark of the regular season.
Nevertheless, it remains within one game of a place in the top four in Group E, who will advance to the Last 32.
A top-three finish already looks out of reach for Hapoel, but the reds hope to leapfrog Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd (2-3), which currently sits in fourth position.
Vilnius and Banvit lead the group at 4-1, with CSU Ploiesti at 3-2 and Partizan Belgrade level with Jerusalem at 1-4.
The fact that Hapoel remains within striking distance of the top four despite all its struggles means coach Franco has good reason for optimism, although he also understands his team is running out of time.
“We are entering the second half of our campaign and we are aware that the first half was far from ideal,” Franco said. “Nevertheless, we believe we can progress. There are several teams in this battle and we are one of them. We will have to be focused and aggressive and I believe that our good form in the BSL combined with the support of the crowd will help us play better in the second round of action.”
Jerusalem extended its perfect start to the BSL season to a club record 7-0 on Sunday, trouncing Maccabi Ashdod 93-71 to take its average margin of victory in local league action to 22.3 points per game.
Hapoel and Banvit met in their Eurocup regular season opener, with the Turkish club claiming a dramatic 80-76 win.
That result sent the teams on opposite courses, with Bandirma going from strength to strength and moving to 4-1 last week with a 90-75 victory over Volgograd.
Banvit’s only loss came against the strong Vilnius on the road, with the team’s past three wins coming by 15 points or more.
Bandirma’s extremely balanced roster includes six players who average double figures, with Earl Rowland the leading scorer with 14.5 points per game.
Jerusalem, on the other hand, has been carried by Donta Smith, who is averaging 16.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Franco will be aiming for a more balanced team performance to record a victory on Wednesday, before Hapoel plays three of its final four regular season games on the road.
“Obviously after what happened in Jerusalem on Tuesday this game takes on a slightly different significance,” said Israeli forward Lior Eliyahu, who is struggling with averages of 8.2 points and 3.0 rebounds per contest.
“The city suffered a tough blow and I hope that the fans will come out in big numbers, especially at this time, to show the world that we can’t be broken.”