Israel downed Estonia 79-69 to go a perfect 2-0 in the first window of World Cup qualifying games. Captain Gal Mekel drilled home a late 3-pointer and handed out 10 assists while John Dibartolomeo also came up with huge points down the stretch to overcome a tough Estonian squad in Tallinn.
The blue-and-white began the game well and built up a comfortable lead thanks to fine play by Tomer Ginat, but the Israeli forward slipped on a sticker on the court and had to be helped off of the court in the third quarter. However, heads-up play by Nimrod Levi along with terrific shooting by Mekel and Dibartolomeo closed out the 10-point win.
Mekel led the way with 10 points and 10 assists, Nimrod Levi added 10 points and 11 rebounds while John Dibartolomeo and Rafi Menco also scored 10 points apiece in a balanced attack. Mikk Jurkatamm scored 14 points and Slim-Sander Bene added 13 points for Estonia in the loss.
“This was a tough game as Estonia has players who are very intense and played great team ball,” the MVP of the game Gal Mekel said. But this was a character win for us and it wasn’t a simple week to come together but we are now 2-0 and won in a place where we had lost in the past. This was a great way to begin the campaign.”
The blue-and-white entered the game in Tallinn after having defeated Poland 69-61 at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv last Thursday and looked to continue on their winning ways. However, the hosts were also coming off a victory having beaten Germany on the road 69-66 thanks to fine outside shooting that saw Jukka Toijala’s team go 11/19 from beyond the arc.
The Israel National Team made a couple of changes to their 12-man roster for the game due to the arrival of John Dibartolomeo and Roman Sorkin as the pair of Maccabi Tel Aviv players had traveled from Berlin to join the team in Estonia. The rest of the squad included Iftach Ziv, Jake Cohen, Tomer Ginat, Rafi Menco, Yam Madar, Gal Mekel, Idan Zalmanson, Adam Ariel, Guy Pnini and Nimrod Levi.
Tomer Ginat began the proceedings with points for Israel while Refi Menco and Gal Mekel each added a 3-pointer but Rauno Nurger scored a pair in the paint, however, Guy Goodes’s stayed in from 10-4 midway through the first quarter. Henri Drell put in a lay-up, Martin Dorbek and Rain Veideman scored for Estonia, Idan Zalmanson scored a trio of baskets in the paint and Menco answered for Israel as Guy Pnini scored a floater to give Israel a 20-14 lead after ten minutes of action.
Mikk Jurkatamm and Slim-Sander Vene went wild from beyond the arc with triples galore to snatch a 3-point just 39 seconds into the second quarter forcing Goodes to call a timeout and regroup. Jurkatamm and Vene dialed up long-distance yet again, as Zalamnson and Nimrod Levi scored but Estonia continued to lead 32-28 with five minutes remaining in the first half. Ginat returned to the floor and immediately drained a 3-pointer, Roman Sorkin scored inside, Yam Madar put in a layup as did Ginat at the buzzer to end the half putting Israel ahead 39-36.
Kristian Kullamae and Sorkin traded baskets to get the third quarter underway, while Menco added a bucket as well, however, Ginat needed to be helped off of the floor after slipping on one of the stickers on the floor as Israel continued to lead 45-40 midway through the period. Menco went from deep, Kristjan Kitsing did the same for Estonia, Drell added a layup and a 3-pointer but John Dibartolomeo drilled home a corner 3-ball to keep the advantage 61-53 after 30 minutes of frantic play.
Levi scored to get Israel on the board in the fourth quarter, Vene, Kullamae and Jurkatamm responded for Estonia to cut the lead to 65-60 with 6:45 left in regulation time. Madar led Cohen to points on a fast break, Kullamae continued to score, but Mekel with a layup and a clutch triple by Dibartolomeo kept Israel in the driver's seat with a 73-65 lead with 1:50 remaining in the frame. Mekel added another big shot from downtown and Dibartolomeo his free throws to sew up the win.