Jerusalem faces Eurocup moment of truth

It’s do-or-die for Reds in continental competition, needing a nine-point win over CSU to stay alive.

Hapoel Jerusalem forward Lior Eliyahu (photo credit: LIRON MOLDOVAN/BSL)
Hapoel Jerusalem forward Lior Eliyahu
(photo credit: LIRON MOLDOVAN/BSL)
After cruising through its BSL games to start the season while suffering frustrating defeats in the Eurocup, Hapoel Jerusalem will be hoping to reverse the trend when it hosts CSU Ploiesti on Wednesday night at the Jerusalem Arena.
Jerusalem’s nine game winning streak to start the BSL season, its best-ever to begin a local campaign, finally came to an end on Sunday following a shock 87-85 home defeat to Hapoel Eilat.
Jerusalem gifted the southerners the win, with Yotam Halperin’s in-bounds pass towards Donta Smith being picked off by Brian Asbury, who then laid in the winning basket at the other end with one second to play.
For much of the first two months of the season, Hapoel had steamrolled its local opponents while dropping to dejecting defeats in Europe.
Jerusalem finally claimed its second win of the Eurocup regular season last week, keeping alive its lingering hopes of qualifying for the Last 32, by beating Partizan Belgrade 83-64 in Serbia.
However, at 2-6 in Group E, Jerusalem still doesn’t have its fate in its own hands entering the final two games of the regular season.
Thanks to the Eurocup’s format which sees four of the group’s six teams progress to the next stage, Jerusalem still has hope, but it remains two games behind fourth place CSU Ploiesti, which beat Banvit Bandirma 84-74 last week to improve to 4-4.
Hapoel will have to defeat Ploiesti by at least nine points to maintain any hope of advancing after CSU triumphed 83-74 when the teams met earlier this season.
Should Hapoel do so, it will then need to overcome Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius next week and for Partizan to register an unlikely upset against Ploiesti in Romania.
First things first, however, with Jerusalem’s campaign to be officially over should it lose or win by fewer than nine points on Wednesday.
“As long as we have a chance we will continue to fight”, said Jerusalem coach Danny Franco.
New signing Pops Mensah- Bonsu played a crucial role in last week’s win, finishing with 11 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes. Franco also received significant contributions from Joseph Jones, Derwin Kitchen and Bracey Wright, but the key for Hapoel was the fact that it held Partizan to just 64 points.
Jerusalem allowed a Eurocup season-high 83 points in its defeat in Romania, with CSU pulling ahead midway through the fourth quarter.
Ploiesti lost three games in a row following the win over Jerusalem before finally snapping the streak by beating Banvit last week.
“It won’t be an easy game, because Hapoel will try to stay in the competition until the last round and keep alive its chances for qualification to the Last 32,” said CSU coach Vladimir Arnautovic.
“We go to Jerusalem prepared for a big fight and hopefully for a big win.
We need to take one more step to go further, so we’ll have to take our chances to avoid a decisive game next week.”
Ploiesti has five players who average between 10.1 and 12.6 points per game in the Eurocup, including Lithuanian Marius Runkauskas, who scores 11.0 points per contest.
“We are confident in our strength before this game, which can send us into the second round,” said Runkauskas. “We won by nine points in Ploiesti, so we now have two options by which we can qualify before the last round. We enter this game after important wins in the Eurocup and Romanian League so we must continue in this direction.”