Jerusalem opens Eurocup campaign with painful loss

Israeli champion outplayed by Novgorod in Russia after squandering double-digit lead.

Hapoel Jerusalem forward Lior Eliyahu couldn’t help his team avoid a 92-71 defeat in Eurocup action at Nizhny Novgorod in Russia (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem forward Lior Eliyahu couldn’t help his team avoid a 92-71 defeat in Eurocup action at Nizhny Novgorod in Russia
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Any illusion Hapoel Jerusalem may have had that life in the Eurocup would get any easier this season was shattered on Wednesday. Nizhny Novgorod handed Hapoel a humbling 92-71 defeat in their group opener in Russia, dominating the second half after coming back from a double-digit deficit in the first.
After finally claiming its first local championship last season, Jerusalem is aiming to once more return to prominence in Europe following several disappointing campaigns.
Despite winning the BSL title last season, Jerusalem was forced to settle for a place in the Eurocup yet again, with the Euroleague rejecting its request to receive a wild-card.
Regardless, Hapoel still has plenty to prove this season after registering an embarrassing 2-8 record in the Eurocup regular season in 2014/15. Jerusalem was eager to get off to a winning start in Russia, but instead it was outplayed by Novgorod, a painful reminder that anything but its best form will not be good enough in Europe.
“I would like to congratulate Nizhny on the win. They deserved it,” said Jerusalem coach Danny Franco. “Nizhny showed it is a good team, especially in the second half. We had some good minutes, but there were other minutes in which we didn’t play the way we should have. This isn’t the way I expect my team to play. We are not balanced. We are missing a guard and several players are coming back from preseason injuries. We will try and win our next game.”
D’or Fischer led Jerusalem with 25 points, with Lior Eliyahu adding 19.
E.J. Rowland contributed 15, but Donta Smith was held to just seven points.
Jerusalem was without guard Bracey Wright who is in the US due to personal reasons.
Kaspars Berzins had 22 points for Novgorod, with Semen Antonov netting 15.
Hapoel will look to get off the mark when it plays Lithuania’s Neptunas Klaipeda at the Jerusalem Arena next week, with the Israelis to also face Galatasaray Istanbul of Turkey, Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd of Russia and AEK Athens of Greece in Group F.
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, homeand- away aggregate series. The quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will also all be played in the same format.
Jerusalem got the game off to a promising start, with Fischer scoring 10 first period points to establish a 22-12 lead after 10 minutes. The hosts closed to within three (26-23), but Hapoel still looked to be in control when Rowland’s three-point play made it 32-23 with six minutes remaining in the half. Eliyahu’s basket took the gap to double figures (40-30) with three-and-a-half minutes to play in the period, but the visitors wouldn’t score again in the first half.
Nizhny went on an 11-0 run to snatch a 41-40 lead at the break, capped by Evgeny Baburin’s three-pointer.
Jerusalem got the second half off to a fast start and regained the lead. However, it would be Novgorod which had a five-point cushion (66-61) entering the final 10 minutes thanks to Maxim Grigoryev’s triple. Hapoel still had everything to play for, but it came no closer in the fourth frame, with the Russians running riot. Nizhny opened with a 21-5 surge and there would be no way back for Jerusalem.