Comeback comes up short in Skopje

Israel falls behind early in Eurobasket qualifer against Macedonia

eurobasket 88 (photo credit: )
eurobasket 88
(photo credit: )
Israel suffered a dent in its aspirations to qualify automatically for Eurobasket 2007 on Sunday night after losing 90-87 to Macedonia in Skopje. Israel trailed the hosts for the entire game and was unable to repeat its heroics from a comeback win against Bosnia on Thursday. The four group winners of the qualifying groups and the two best second placed teams will qualify directly to Eurobasket 2007. The remaining 10 teams that don't qualify automatically will play in a last chance tournament from which one more team can book a place in the European basketball championships. The blue-and-white were unable to slow down the Macedonians on defense and will now face a much more difficult task to finish first in the group, which is currently led by Portugal, an 80-78 winner over Bosnia Sunday night. The Macedonians were led by Ryan Stack, who scored 24 points and took 10 rebounds, and playmaker Vrbica Stefanov, who had 18 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Jamie Arnold was once again the best Israeli on the court, scoring 30 points, with Yotam Halperin contributing 19 points and five assists. Israel's next game will be a "home" tie on Wednesday evening against Portugal in Sofia, Bulgaria. Israel took an early 4-0 lead, but was soon overrun by the sharp shooting hosts. Aleksander Dimitrovski's five straight points capped a 13-2 Macedonian run. The hosts continued to increase their lead and Gjorgji Cekovski's three-pointer put his team up 26-12 at the end of the first quarter. The Macedonians maintained a comfortable lead at the start of the second period and Todor Gecevki's two straight three-pointers made it 34-21. A Halperin floater put Israel reduced the hosts' lead to single digits, 34-25, but the visitors couldn't cut the deficit any further in the first half, which ended 47-36. Arnold scored at the start of the second half to bring Israel within eight. However, the Macedonians did not allow Israel to repeat its third quarter defensive display from Thursday. Matan Naor managed to cut the deficit to six points, but after a Gecevski lay-up, the Macedonians' lead was back at 12. A Stack three-pointer gave the hosts their biggest lead of the night, 64-48, but Israel went on a quarter-ending 7-0 run that the visitors hoped would fuel their final period. Despite three Naor three pointers in the space of just a couple of minutes, Israel still trailed by six, 79-73, and then two baskets by Arnold narrowed the lead to four as the Macedonians appeared to tire. Halperin cut the lead to just two points with a pair of free-throws, but that was followed by a three-point play by Stack. After Arnold put his team within one basket of the hosts with another quick two points, Amit Tamir turned the ball over and Israel lost any chance of winning.