Jerusalem squeaks by Sofia in opener; Haifa upended by Unics

Hapoel Jerusalem opens Eurocup campaign with a hard-fought 84-76 victory over Lukoil Academic Sofia.

Hapoel Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Jerusalem opened its Eurocup campaign with a hard-fought 84-76 victory over Lukoil Academic Sofia at Malha Arena on Wednesday night, while Maccabi Haifa dropped to a 75-67 defeat to Russian powerhouse Unics Kazan at Romema Arena.
Jerusalem raced to an early double-digit lead (14-4), but Sofia controlled the second period and entered the interval with a three-point edge (39-36). Hapoel regained the initiative in the third quarter, with Yotam Halperin’s excellent play helping the hosts open a 61-55 margin with 10 minutes to play.
Academic scored eight straight points early in the fourth quarter to move back in front and the lead would exchange hands numerous times until Jerusalem went on a 9-0 surge, capped by a Derwin Kitchen lay up with 2:28 minutes to play, to take an eight-point lead (78-70) it wouldn’t relinquish.
Belorussian giant Artsiom Parakhouski led Jerusalem with 21 points and eight rebounds, with Halperin and Kitchen adding 14 points each.
Filip Videnov had 17 points for Sofia.
Earlier Wednesday, Haifa trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half before closing to within two points in the final two minutes of the game, only to see its comeback come up just short.
Nevertheless, coach Danny Franco was extremely pleased with what he saw from his players.
“We committed too many turnovers in the first half and when you lose your concentration against a team like this you are made to pay,” said Franco, whose team only returned from the US on Monday after being thrashed in its three pre-season games against the Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies.
“I’m really encouraged by tonight’s performance. We saw a determined and battling team which doesn’t give up until the final second even against an opponent like Kazan. We are not happy we lost, but we will grow from this game and overcome the disappointment.”
In Haifa, an 11-0 run capped by a three-pointer by former Maccabi Tel Aviv swingman Chuck Eidson gave Kazan an early 12-point lead (22-10) and the gap would balloon 19 points (34-15).
Despite still trailing by 17 points (46-29) at the break, Haifa never gave up the chase, closing to within six points (55-49) by the end of the third frame.
Unics reestablished a double- digit margin (62-52), but Haifa came within a single possession with two minutes to play after Moran Roth’s free throws (67-65).
The hosts had a chance to tie the game, but Donta Smith failed to sink his difficult shot and Kostas Kaimakoglou’s three with 33 seconds remaining (72-65) crushed Haifa’s hopes for good.
Ike Ofoegbu had 15 points and six rebounds for Haifa, with Roth contributing 12 points and eight assists while Brian Randle and Smith scored 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Andrew Goudelock led Kazan with 22 points.