Israel clinches EuroBasket 2022 berth

Pnini, Mekel and Cohen lead blue-and-white over Poland, sealing perfect 4-0 qualifying record.

Even at 37 years old, Guy Pnini is a big contributor to the Israel National Team, and it was his late three-pointer that helped ice Poland in last night’s 78-72 win (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
Even at 37 years old, Guy Pnini is a big contributor to the Israel National Team, and it was his late three-pointer that helped ice Poland in last night’s 78-72 win
Israel defeated Poland 78-72 on Monday night in Valencia to advance to the EuroBasket for the 14th time in a row and improve its Group A qualifying record to a perfect 4-0.
Veteran sharp-shooter Guy Pnini scored a critical three-pointer with time running down to put the finishing touches on a blue-and-white team effort that saw all 12 roster players score. Jake Cohen and Gal Mekel led the way early while Tomer Ginat and Nimrod Levi played well late before Pnini made his huge shot to put the icing on the cake and send Israel to the continental competition in September 2022. Cohen led the way with 14 points, Mekel added 12 points, Pnini put in 10 while Ginat scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Mateusz Ponitka topped Poland’s scorers with 23 points while Michal Sokolowski added 15 points in the loss.
“We have a lot of young players but they have grown up really fast,” said a satisfied Israel coach Oded Katash. “We knew that we were going to advance but we wanted to do it in style and win. We began poorly but showed character against a team that played very well against Romania and beat Spain as well. But I have to tip my hat to the players.”
Ginat was also all smiles following the win.
“I try to do my best and play as well as I can with the National Team but it’s a team game and we all played together for the win. It’s a great feeling, and we are a very special team as we really enjoy playing with each other and to be able to advance to the EuroBasket with a 4-0 record is really something else.”
Israel entered its fourth qualifying game looking to keep both its perfect record intact while also clinching a spot in the EuroBasket.
The blue-and-white won its first contest in the Valencia bubble on Saturday night by downing Spain 95-87.
Katash wanted to keep the positive energy going from the surprise win and made just one lineup change, inserting Ben Carter for his debut in the nation’s colors in place of Roman Sorkin. The pair of games were being played in a bubble due to coronavirus and provided a safe and sterile experience for the participants.
The last time Poland and Israel tipped off was back in February when the blue-and-white took a 75-71 win at the Gliwice Arena prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
On Monday, Cohen opened up the scoring for Israel but Poland came back with a layup and three-pointer by Michal Sokolowski. Damian Kulig added points for Mike Taylor’s squad but Idan Zalmason scored in the paint, Yam Madar nailed his free throws and Ginat finished off the frame with a basket as Poland stayed in front 18-16 after 10 minutes.
Iftach Ziv hit a trio of free throws and Cohen drove inside to score while Mekel drained the first triple of the game to give Israel a 29-27 advantage with 4:04 to go in the second stanza. The blue-and-white continued to be aggressive and extended its lead to 41-32 by halftime.
Cohen got the third quarter under way with points down low, Pnini drilled another triple but Poland’s Aaron Cel and Ponitka scored to keep pace.
Levi and Rafi Menco scored in the paint to balance a scoring clinic being put on by Michal Michalak. Levi, Ginat and Blatt then bumped the Israel lead back up to 62-52 after 30 minutes.
Madar and Levi scored for Israel but Ponitka and Sokolowski nailed back-to-back three-pointers to cut the lead to 65-61 with 7:56 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Cohen broke a scoreless streak of over three minutes by both teams, Golan Gutt hit from beyond the arc and Mekel nailed a jumper but Ponitka kept Poland hanging around as Israel held the advantage 72-66 with 3:29 to go.
Sokolowski went from deep, Ponitka stole the ball and went in for a dunk but Pnini drilled the big-time triple to seal the deal and send Israel to EuroBasket 2022.