Hapoel Jerusalem on brink of Eurocup ouster after tight loss in Lithuania

Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Danny Franco (photo credit: DANI MARON/MAARIV)
Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Danny Franco
(photo credit: DANI MARON/MAARIV)
Hapoel Jerusalem is on the verge of yet another early Eurocup exit after once more suffering a heartbreaking road defeat on Tuesday night, losing 87-85 to Neptunas Klaipeda in Lithuania.
Jerusalem fell to 2-5 in Group F after erasing a 19-point deficit to close within a single point in the final minute, only to miss an opportunity to force overtime at the buzzer.
Danny Franco’s team will find itself two games back of a place in the top four, which will lead to the Last 32, with three games to play should Nizhny Novgorod claim a home win over rock-bottom Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd on Wednesday.
The only real positive Hapoel can take from Tuesday’s game is that it still holds the tiebreaker over Neptunas, which improved to 4-3, after beating the Lithuanians by 15 points in Jerusalem. As a result, the Israeli champion can still leapfrog Klaipeda and advance to the next round should it claim two more wins than its rival from its final three games.
Hapoel hosts Galatasaray next week and AEK Athens the following week before ending its campaign in Volgograd.
Everything could have been different had Hapoel not dug itself such a deep hole in the first half on Tuesday, trailing 51-32 before scoring the final five points of the half. Jerusalem still trailed by double digits (68-58) entering the final 10 minutes, but slowly ate away at the deficit, only for E.J. Rowland to miss his drive to the basket with a couple of seconds on the clock before Matt Janning somehow failed to sink his shot from the rebound.
D’or Fischer had 26 points and six rebounds for Jerusalem, with Rowland adding 19 points and six assists. Donta Smith finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, with Lior Eliyahu playing six minutes in his return from injury but failing to score a point.
Jerusalem dropped to its ninth defeat in 10 Eurocup trips stretching back to the 2013/14 campaign.
Daniel Ewing led five Neptunas players in double figures with 20 points, including crucial baskets down the stretch.
“The main reason for our defeat is that even though we were ready and were not surprised by anything they did we lost our composure in the first half,” said Jerusalem coach Danny Franco. “We mounted a great comeback in the second half, but came up short and are very disappointed.”
Despite the defeat, Franco hasn’t lost hope that Jerusalem will qualify for the next round.
“I still think we are a good team,” he added. “If we play our basketball in the final three games then we will still have a chance.
Even should we only have a small chance we will leave everything on the court and will not give up.”
In BSL news, Ironi Ness Ziona announced on Tuesday that it is parting ways with coach Nadav Zilberstein after seven years.
Ness Ziona fell to 2-6 in the BSL following Sunday’s defeat to Maccabi Rishon Lezion.