European Hoops: Hapoel wins the battle but loses the war

Jerusalem loses Eurocup qualifier on aggregate despite beating Unics Kazan at Malha.

Hapoel Jerusalem 224.88 (photo credit: Roi Levy [file])
Hapoel Jerusalem 224.88
(photo credit: Roi Levy [file])
Hapoel Jerusalem has played in Europe's second-tier competition every year since 2002, but its six-year run was ended in Jerusalem on Tuesday night. An aggregate defeat by Unics Kazan ensured that the team from Israel's capital will be forced to play in the third-tier FIBA EuroChallenge tournament this season. Jerusalem beat Kazan 76-73 in the second leg of its Eurocup qualifier on Tuesday at home but, having lost by 22 points in Russia last week, it was nowhere near a big enough victory. Despite the defeat, Hapoel coach Guy Goodes was proud of his team. "Today we came with energy and tried to make a difference," he told reporters after the game. "First of all we wanted to win. We didn't start the third quarter well, maybe we were a little bit tired." Hapoel Jerusalem had been lucky to get a chance to compete for a place in the group stage of the Eurocup, after finishing sixth in the BSL standings last season but taking the place of Hapoel Holon, who was unable to play in Europe for financial reasons. The Eurocup is the new name for the ULEB Cup, which Hapoel Jerusalem won in 2004. Looking to the future Goodes added: "We will do our best in the EuroChallenge. We'll need to see what teams play there and what kind of draw we get to see what we can do in that competition, which is very tough." For the second game in a row, Kazan's Terrell Lyday led all scorers, this time with 17 points, while Jerusalem's Timmy Bowers scored 16. Travis Watson had a double-double for the home team with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but it was not enough to push Hapoel through. Lyday was humble in the post-game scrum, even after his team had won. "We played a great game. Hapoel is a great team, with a great atmosphere here. I wish them luck in the future," he said. From the tip-off, it looked like it was going to be a difficult night for Hapoel, with the players knowing that nothing less than a 23-point victory would be good enough to take them through to the group stage, where it would have faced David Blatt's Dynamo Moscow. An Omar Sneed dunk off a Moran Rot assist put Jerusalem up by three points (8-5) early on in the first quarter and the atmosphere began building inside the small Malha Arena as Watson scored two baskets in succession. Kazan was not having a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but managed to stay with its opponent throughout. With every point being crucial, the game was not going Jerusalem's way for much of the opening minutes as Sneed missed dunk and Lyday hit a three at the other end to make the score 20-18 for the home team. After 10 minutes, Hapoel was leading by three points at 21-18, but it had a long way to go if it was to have any chance of building the required margin. At times there was a distinct lack of coordination between the Hapoel players. The hosts opened up a 10-point gap at 28-18 three minutes into the second quarter only to see their opponents claw back to 30-28 within a couple of minutes. The Jerusalemites fought back and an Omar Sneed two-pointer and converted foul shot made it 40-30 to the Israelis with just over a minute to go to the end of the half. However, Jerusalem could not hold on to the lead and a three-pointer by Lyday ensured that Hapoel was only ahead 41-35 at the break. Rot noted the significance of the early margin. "We fought hard, played our best and in aggressive way, Unics is a great team. We reached a double-margin difference already, but they came back. This win will give us big motivation for the future," he said. Kazan was the better team as the second half started and, with five minutes gone in the third period, took a 48-47 lead. As the quarter went on, Kazan stretched its lead and, although Jerusalem came back towards the end of the third, with ten minutes left in the game Unics was up by 56-54. Bowers opened the fourth with jumper to tie the score at 56 and rouse the home-crowd somewhat, although by then everyone in the arena knew that it would take a super-human performance for Jerusalem to win the overall tie. Despite the defeat the Jerusalem fans stayed in high spirits, singing the classic song "Jerusalem of Gold" as their players left the court.