Both Israeli teams eke out tight triumphs

Jerusalem survives wild finish in Slovenia; Haifa knocks off Nymburk to open Last 32.

Maccabi Haifa’s Ido Kozikaro (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Haifa’s Ido Kozikaro
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Jerusalem survived a nail-biting finish in Slovenia to get the Eurocup Last 32 off to a winning start on Wednesday night, while Maccabi Haifa opened its account with a home victory.
The lead changed hands three times in the final minute of Jerusalem’s Group M opener before Hapoel eventually eked out a 69-66 victory at Olimpija Ljubljana.
Despite its recent struggles, Haifa held on for an 80-75 win over CEZ Nymburk at Romema Arena.
Ljubljana couldn’t find its range at the start of the game and a Rafi Menko three-pointer with two minutes to play in the first quarter opened a promising 21-6 lead for Hapoel.
However, the hosts would score the final eight points of the period and Drazen Bubnic’s basket four minutes into the second frame capped a 20-4 run and gave the Slovenians their first lead of the night (26-25).
The visitors had the edge at the interval (36-34) and a Yotam Halperin triple with two minutes to play in the third quarter capped a 7-0 surge (51-45).
Jerusalem was ahead by five points (52-47) with 10 minutes to play and Derwin Kitchen’s lay-up increased the margin to nine points (58-49). But Hapoel would go scoreless in the subsequent four minutes and Alex Stepheson’s basket put Ljubljana in the lead (59-58).
A tense finish would ensue, with a Josh Duncan three followed by a Lior Eliyahu basket with 55 seconds remaining giving Jerusalem the advantage (65-64).
Bubnic put Ljubljana back in front, but Kitchen scored the go-ahead basket with 35 seconds left (67-66) and the visitors clinched the win with a crucial defensive stop.
Kitchen ended the game with 14 points, with Eliyahu, Halperin and Duncan scoring 10 points each.
Sasu Salin had 19 points for Ljubljana.
At Romema, Haifa got off to a bright start, with birthday boy Ido Kozikaro forcing the visitors into an early timeout by opening a seven-point margin (14-7).
A steal and basket by former Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Tre Simmons at the end of the first quarter limited the damage for Nymburk (21-16), but Haifa would pull ahead at the start of the second period, thanks in large to the in-form Dagan Yavzuri.
A David Cubillan three-pointer gave the Greens their first double-digit gap of the night (29-18) and two consecutive triples by Yavzuri maintained Haifa’s promising advantage (45-36).
However, despite Yavzuri’s 13 points in the second quarter, Nymburk closed to within just three points by the break (47- 44) following a Simmons buzzer beater from beyond the arc.
A 10-3 run to start the second half saw Haifa open a double-figure cushion (57-47) once more, but yet again it was Simmons who ensured the Czechs never lost touch, with his three to end the third frame cutting the deficit to two points (65-63).
However, Simmons would score just two points in the final 10 minutes of the encounter and Haifa would open a lead it wouldn’t relinquish with a 7-0 surge to start the fourth quarter (72-63).
A Vlado Ilievski triple brought Nymburk within three points (78-75) with 56 seconds to play, but Haifa would hold on for a vital Last 32 win, considering its two other rivals in Group K are the powerful Khimki Moscow and Montepaschi Siena.
Yavzuri led Haifa with 17 points, with Donta Smith finishing with 15 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Cubillan scored 14 points, netting four threes.
Simmons had a game-high 23 points for Nymburk in the loss .