Jerusalem secures another Eurocup berth

New coach Katash guides Hapoel to 84-73 over Liege in Malha debut.

Solomon 311 (photo credit: FIBA EUROPE Web site)
Solomon 311
(photo credit: FIBA EUROPE Web site)
Hapoel Jerusalem has another long Eurocup campaign to look forward to after progressing to the group stage of the competition on Tuesday night with an 84-73 victory over Belgacom Liege in the second leg of the qualifying round at Malha Arena.
Jerusalem entered the return leg with a three-point lead after last week’s 62- 59 victory in Belgium and was never in any danger of losing its first home game of the season.
Liege’s only lead of the night was at 2- 0 after 20 seconds. But Hapoel quickly seized control of the encounter, opening a double-figure margin it would hold for the majority of the game.
Hapoel’s play was erratic at times, but the squad was dominant enough to get its fans – seeing their team for the first time this year – excited about the coming season.
Oded Katash’s team showed plenty of potential both offensively and defensively.
Jerusalem hit 65.9 percent of its two-point attempts and seemed able to stop Liege at will.
“Considering this was our first home game we did well,” said Katash, whose team will begin the group stage on November 16. “I think our defense won us the game.”
Brian Randle led the hosts with 16 points, with Jason Rich adding 15 and Will Solomon scoring 13 points on his return to Malha after more than six years.
Sam Clancy had 12 points, while Uri Kukia grabbed 11 rebounds in a trademark defensive performance.
Michael Jenkins led Liege with 19 points.
Liege arrived at Malha just minutes before the tip-off, mistakenly believing the game was set to start an hour later than scheduled.
That left the Belgians with little time to warm-up and it showed at the beginning of the game.
Rich scored Hapoel’s first seven points of the night and his three-pointer gave the hosts an early 7-2 lead. Another jumper by the American guard midway through the first period extended Jerusalem’s margin to double-digits (15- 5), but Hapoel would take its foot off the gas after that and Guy Muya capped a 10-2 Liege run to end the quarter to bring the visitors within one possession after 10 minutes (23-20).
Len Matela’s basket to start the second period cut the deficit to one, but Hapoel would go on another run, leading 34-25 after a Dion Dowell dunk.
Once more, however, Katash’s men allowed Liege back into the game, with a Jenkins lay-up closing the gap to 35-32.
Jerusalem took a 43-38 lead into the second half and quickly strengthened its position. An 8-0 run to start the third quarter gave Hapoel a comfortable lead once more, with Liege taking almost five minutes to score its first points of the half.
Jerusalem was in complete control after that, holding at least an eight point lead until the end of the encounter.
A 64-49 margin with 10 minutes to play ensured Hapoel could cruise in the final quarter on its way to clinching a place in the group stage of the Eurocup for the seventh time in the last eight years.