Hap J’lem beats Alba in 1st leg at Malha, but not by enough

Team squanders a golden opportunity to take a significant step towards the last four.

hapoel jerusalem alba berlin 311 (photo credit: roi levy)
hapoel jerusalem alba berlin 311
(photo credit: roi levy)
Despite defeating Alba Berlin 67-61 in the first leg of the Eurocup quarterfinals at Malha Arena on Wednesday night, Hapoel Jerusalem squandered a golden opportunity to take a significant step towards the last four.
Jerusalem led by as many as 20 points in the third period, but Berlin ate away at the gap as the game drew to a close and celebrated the defeat as the final buzzer sounded in the knowledge that it hosts the decisive return leg in Germany next Wednesday.
Hapoel held Berlin to just 18 points in the first half, but the Germans scored 23 and 20 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, and despite turning over the ball some 17 times will enter the second leg as the favorites.
Nevertheless, Jerusalem coach Guy Goodes is confident his team will not rue Wednesday’s bittersweet victory and will advance to the semifinals next week.
“It is very difficult to maintain a positive momentum for 40 minutes,” Goodes said. “We were superb defensively in the first half, but Alba made the right moves and got back into the game. The most important thing is that we won. We beat a very good team and now we will go to Berlin with a lot of confidence and try to win and advance to the final four.”
Brandon Hunter was outstanding for Jerusalem, scoring 23 points and taking 10 rebounds. Kevinn Pinkney added 13 points for Hapoel, which hit just 28.5 percent (6 of 21) from beyond the arc.
“We’ve got to go to Berlin with a six point lead and we will be facing a tough team,” Hunter said.
“Alba never gives up and the game in Germany is going to be a battle.”
Derrick Byars had 17 points for Berlin, with Blagota Sekulic the team’s only other player in double-figures, scoring 14 points.
Jerusalem attacked Alba with its up-tempo offense right from the start and opened an early lead. Yuval Naimi’s lay-up just over two minutes into the game gave Hapoel a 9-2 margin and another easy basket by Tre Simmons following another Jerusalem fast-break kept the hosts ahead by seven points (13-6) midway through the period.
Hapoel was ahead by just five points (16-11) at the end of the quarter after failing to score in the final three minutes, but Berlin looked completely lost on offense throughout the first half and the hosts increased their lead.
Hunter’s easy bucket ended more than seven-and-a-half minutes without a field-goal and Kevinn Pinkney’s three with 4:15 to play in the half opened a double-digit margin (23-13).
Pooh Jeter’s triple with 30 seconds to go extended the margin to 15 and Hapoel was ahead 30-18 at the break after Byars hit a three, improving Berlin’s field-goal percentage in the half to an embarrassing 26 percent (7 of 27).
Jerusalem continued to surge ahead at the start of the second half, opening a 20-point margin (41-21) after a Naimi basket.
Two more points from Simmons with 2:30 remaining in the frame kept the hosts comfortably in front (49-30), but the Germans ended the period with an 11-0 run, cutting the deficit to eight points (49-41) and silencing the local fans.
Dragan Dojcin’s triple to start the fourth quarter brought Alba towithin just five points (49-44), but Hunter came to Hapoel’s rescueonce again and six straight points by the center gave the team a 55-45advantage.
However, despite extending the lead to 12 points, Jerusalem could notpull any further in front, with Byars causing most of the damage.
Hapoel’s margin was shrinking with every minute that passed and athree-point move by Julius Jenkins followed by a Sekulic dunk cut thefinal margin of defeat to just six points, leaving Jerusalem withplenty of work to do in Berlin next week.