Jerusalem can’t afford another Eurocup slip

Hapoel hosts Volgograd in desperate need of victory to get campaign headed in right direction.

Hapoel Jerusalem forward Tony Gaffney (photo credit: LIRON MOLDOVAN/BSL)
Hapoel Jerusalem forward Tony Gaffney
(photo credit: LIRON MOLDOVAN/BSL)
Hapoel Jerusalem only hits the midway point of its Eurocup regular season campaign on Wednesday night, but it is already very close to the point of no return.
Another defeat to Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd of Russia at the Jerusalem Arena will see Hapoel fall to 1-4 and further complicate its situation in Group F.
With Danny Franco’s team failing time and again to win on the road in Europe, Hapoel’s home games have taken on a far greater significance.
Jerusalem squandered an 18-point halftime lead on the way to a 75-74 defeat at AEK Athens last week, and has won just one of its past nine Eurocup trips stretching back to the 2013/14 campaign.
With last season’s 1-6 start and ultimate exit in the regular season still fresh in everyone’s mind, Jerusalem knows it must bounce back starting with its two upcoming home games against the group’s Russian sides, Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod.
Volgograd also enters the contest at 1-3, losing its past three games after opening the campaign with a road win in Athens.
Jerusalem will be meeting Volgograd for the second consecutive season, with Oktyabr winning both games last term, including a 79-78 thriller in Jerusalem.
The key to slowing down the Russians is limiting guard D.J. Cooper, the only Eurocup player who averages double-digit assists (10 per contest) through four games.
After 10 regular-season games, the top four teams from each group will enter the Last 32 phase. The Last 32 will feature eight groups of four teams, with the best two teams from each group to advance to a two-game, head-to-head, home-and-away aggregate series.
Jerusalem enters Wednesday’s game on the back of its first BSL defeat after falling 89-83 in double overtime at the hands of Maccabi Rishon Lezion on Saturday night.
“I wouldn’t call this a snowball effect,” said forward Tony Gaffney following the loss. “We need to understand how to play better in the second half. We suffered in the third quarter in Greece as well and we can’t afford to build double-digit leads in the first half and then lose them.”
Jerusalem will be without forward Lior Eliyahu once more on Wednesday, with guard Yotam Halperin being limited by pain in his back in the loss to Rishon.
“The game against Volgograd is very important to us,” added Gaffney.
“We haven’t lost at home in the Eurocup so far and we need to figure many things out until this game. Players need to look themselves in the mirror and understand that what has happened is unacceptable.”
Elsewhere Wednesday, Maccabi Rishon Lezion visits Lukoil Academic Sofia in Bulgaria in Group H action of FIBA’s new Europe Cup competition. Rishon suffered a frustrating 72-68 defeat at home to Enisey Krasnoyarsk of Russia last week to fall to 1-1. Rishon led for much of the night, but lost the momentum in the fourth quarter. Sharon Drucker’s side bounced back with a confidence-boosting victory over Jerusalem and will be desperate to get back on track in continental competition and remain on course for a top-two finish in the group and a place in the Round of 32.
“We are facing a very tough road game,” said captain Nitzan Hanochi.
“We want to return with a win in order to take another small step towards qualification to the next stage. In order for that to happen we will need to continue and play aggressive team basketball.”