Israel defeats Iceland to remain in the hunt

Blue-and-white must defeat Slovakia to set up all-important game against Serbia.

 Omri Casspi (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Omri Casspi
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel remained in contention for EuroBasket 2013 qualification on Wednesday night, overcoming a gritty Iceland team 92-75 at Nokia Arena to improve to 5-3 in Group A.
The national team thrashed Iceland by 27 points on the road two weeks ago, but the visitors led by as many as nine points in the first quarter and only trailed by four at the break.
However, Israel finally put the game to rest in the third period and will be confident of beating Slovakia on Saturday ahead of a winner-takes-all showdown at Serbia next Tuesday.
“We have played so many games recently that I decided to use my bench players until we found the lineup that led us to the win,” said Israel coach Arik Shivek. “We now must defeat Slovakia and then we face what is in my opinion the toughest game in European basketball.”
Should Israel lose to Serbia, it will finish the group in third place as long as it defeats Slovakia. It will be hoping to be among the four best third-placed teams from the six groups who will also progress to the European Championships, but will need results from other groups to go its way for that to happen.
Omri Casspi led Israel with 22 points on Wednesday, with Lior Eliyahu notching up his second straight double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds and Alex Tyus contributing 19 points and 10 boards.
Jakob Sigurdarson had 21 points for Iceland.
“Fatigue played a part in the first half, but the bench players won the game for us and they deserve every credit for that,” Casspi said.
All the pregame talk about thrashing Iceland was made to look ridiculous in the first quarter, with the visitors embarrassing Israel.
Iceland opened with five straight points and an 11-2 run capped by Jon Stefansson’s three-point play gave it a 20-11 lead.
Israel scored the last six points of the first quarter to limit the damage (20-17), but the Icelanders would not go away easily, with Haukur Palsson’s three-pointer increasing the gap to seven points (29-22).
However, Casspi finally found his range in the second period, scoring 12 points to help Israel erase the deficit and move into the lead.
An Ido Kozikaro free throw capped a 13-3 run which gave Israel a 35-32 advantage, but the win was far from secure at the break, with the hosts holding just a four-point edge (42-38).
Nevertheless, Iceland would never really come close to taking the lead again, with Tyus dunking at will in the third frame, giving the blue-and-white its first double-digit margin (59-49) with two more easy points midway through the quarter.
The hosts took a 67-56 gap into the final 10 minutes and were at this stage surely thinking about increasing the margin to 20 points and more.
However, Israel ultimately had to settle for a 17-point win which keeps it in the hunt for second position in the group as well as a place among the four best third-placed finishers.