Shivek’s squad runs out of steam in Montenegro; Cohen finishes with most points, assists.
By ALLON SINAI
Israel will play in the European Championships once more next summer after advancing to a 10th straight EuroBasket tournament on Sunday night despite losing 79-69 to Montenegro in Podgorica.A victory at the former Yugoslav Republic would have seen Israel progress from first place in Group A, but the loss proved to be almost meaningless as the blue-and-white still qualified for the European Championships as one of the two best runners-up.Arik Shivek’s team ended its erratic, yet mostly impressive campaign with a 5-3 record, beating Italy on the road and Montenegro at home, while losing away at Finland and against the Italians at Nokia Arena.However, Israel will face its real test next summer in Lithuania where it will be looking to make up for ending the last tournament with an 0-3 record, the first time it had finished the European Championships without a victory in 25 appearances.Earlier in the day, Israel’s women also secured their place in next summer’s EuroBasket tournament, claiming a 79- 72 victory over Romania at Zisman Arena in Ramat Gan to finish top of Group B.The women will be playing in their third straight European Championships, and after failing to win a game in their last two appearances, will be confident of finally triumphing in the tournament in Poland.“It was a tough game because we played against a team that had nothing to lose,” coach Eli Rabi said. “The girls were very tired and nervous. It’s a big achievement, it was a very big effort for us, but it ended in the best way possible. We will come ready and modest to the EuroBasket. We have experience from our previous appearances and we will not be coming to Poland just to participate.”In Podgorica, Israel got off to a slow start once more, with Montenegro scoring the first eight points of the night.However, the visitors soon found their range and nine first quarter points by Omri Casspi meant the blueand- white trailed just 24-20 after 10 minutes.Shivek’s men scored the first eight points of the second period to move into the lead, and were ahead by as much as eight after a Yuval Naimi floater (37-29).The hosts would close to within four points by the break, however (41-37), and it was anyone’s game after a tight third frame ended with Israel leading 57-56.There was nothing to separate the teams at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but a 9-0 run put Montenegro in command, and the hosts claimed a symbolic win.Lior Eliyahu had 18 points and 8 rebounds, with Casspi also scoring 18 points for Israel, which shot just five of 20 from three-point range.Vladimir Dragicevic led the winners with 20 points, with Nikola Pekovic adding 19 points.At Zisman, the hosts pulled ahead midway through the first period and led 27-20 after 10 minutes. However, despite only having pride to play for, Romania never stopped fighting and trailed by just six points (44- 38) at halftime.The game was still up for grabs at the start of the fourth quarter, with Israel leading 60-55. But 13-4 run to begin the period put the blue-and-white in the driving seat, and Israel held on to advance to the European Championships once more.Liron Cohen led the national team with 27 points and three assists and ends the campaign as the overall scoring (20.8 ppg) and and assists (6.7 apg) leader.Shay Doron added 21 points, with Ekaterina Abramzon scoring 10 points.“We are in a process and we’re getting better with every year,” Cohen said. “We want to claim a first win in the EuroBasket. We have a talented team and I believe in this generation of players.”
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