One-and-almost-done for Gilboa/Galil

Local title-holder can’t fend off Vrsac, now faces must-win in Serbia after 97-84 clunker.

Gal Mekel (photo credit: BSL)
Gal Mekel
(photo credit: BSL)
Hapoel Gilboa/Galil’s Euroleague dream seems set to end on Friday night after the reigning Israeli champion fell to a 97-84 defeat to Hemofarm Stada Vrsac in the first leg of the first qualifying round at the Nokia Arena on Tuesday night.
Gilboa had hoped to at least take a slender lead into the return leg in Serbia on Friday. But after coming back from a 14-point deficit to open an eight-point advantage in the third quarter, the hosts were outscored 30- 12 in the fourth period and will in all likelihood see their Euroleague campaign come to an end in two days time.
“We paid a heavy price for our mistakes,” said Gilboa coach Lior Lubin, who replaced Oded Katash at the helm. “We came back from a doublefigure deficit to lead by eight points, but that was not enough. The players at least gained some experience and I believe we will be a good team.”
With only four players remaining from last season’s roster and with just three players being older than 25, Gilboa’s inexperience was costing it dearly at the beginning of the game.
Vrsac opened an early 19-5 lead, but a 29-point second quarter saw Gilboa close to within just two points at halftime.
Lubin’s team moved ahead in the third period, but after leading by as many as eight points, Gilboa lost its composure in the final 10 minutes, and assuming it doesn’t record a miracle victory on Friday night, it will have to settle for a place in the Eurocup regular season.
Lubin did at least see some positives ahead of the BSL season.
The 22-year-old big-man Tyler Wilkerson scored 20 points and hauled down five rebounds, with Jack McClinton contributing 18 points and Gal Mekel adding 15 points.
Lubin does, however, have plenty of work to do to improve his team’s defensive play.
Milan Macvan scored 31 points on 13 of 16 from the field for Vrsac, with Bojan Krstovic adding 22 points, including six of eight from beyond the arc.
“We felt we could win the game, but we paid the price for all the summer changes,” Mekel said. “I believe that we will improve with time.”
The hosts missed their first five field goals and dropped to a quick 10-2 deficit.
Lubin’s men hit just two of their first 11 shots, and with the Serbs scoring at will, Vrsac was ahead by a record 14-points (19-5) following Krstovic’s three-pointer.
Gilboa would slightly limit the damage by the end of the first period, but was still trailing by double-figures (26-16) after 10 minutes.
A Warren Carter three-point move edged Gilboa closer at the start of the second quarter and the hosts would eat away at the gap as the period progressed.
Wilkerson’s on-target free-throws closed the margin to five points (40- 35) and a McClinton trey brought the Israeli champs within one possession (45-43).
The hosts still trailed by two points at the break (47-45), but they wouldn’t take long to move into the lead.
McClinton’s triple to start the second half put Hapoel in front and Gilboa led 56-52 after a Mekel threepoint play.
Vrsac quickly tied the score, but Gilboa continued to show how much potential it has and was ahead with 10 minutes to play.
Gur Porat’s three opened a 67-61 advantage and two more points by Mekel extended the margin to eight points (69-61).
Krstovic ensured the visitors were only down by five points (72-67) entering the final frame, and thanks to the excellent Macvan, Vrsac tied the score with a 5-0 run to start the period.
The Serbian league runner-up would not stop there, and with Gilboa completely losing its rhythm, Vrsac took total control with a 20-2 run.
Krstovic’s three-point move capped the run (84-74) and the visitors would cruise to a victory that all but clinches their place in the Euroleague’s second qualifying round.