It was a rollercoaster of emotions for the Blue and White during a stop in Croatia for a trio of games ahead of the trip to France for EuroBasket 2015.
Israel dropped a nail biter to Bosnia, 80-79, in a preview of a group stage matchup at EuroBasket. Afterwards, the Israelis finally earned their first victory of the summer, and they did it in very convincing fashion, whipping Estonia 74-56. But they were quickly brought back down to earth by the host Croatians, 86-76.
The Bosnia loss was definitely a sucker punch to the Blue and White. The national team has certainly felt the pressure of the losing streak, and so a nine point lead at the halftime break was a welcome development. But Bosnia rallied in the third quarter for 27 points, and the fourth quarter became a seesaw battle between the two sides. Dagan Yivzori knotted the score up at 79 with four seconds remaining, hoping to send the game into overtime. But it was Alex Renfroe of Bosnia who got the last laugh, getting to the line and needing to sink only one of two free throws to ice the game. He did just that and Bosnia came away victorious. Lior Eliyahu and Omri Casspi set the pace in the losing effort with 16 and 14 points respectively.
After the drama of the Bosnia game, a less stressful matchup against Estonia, and of course a better outcome, was an absolute necessity. Estonia pulled within six points of Israel in the second quarter, but that was the closest they ever got to catching the Israelis, who put their feet on the gas in the second half on both the offensive and the defensive end. They exploded for 23 points in the third frame while limiting Estonia to just 14 and 13 points in the remaining quarters. Point guard Gal Mekel played leader in this one for Team Israel, scoring 16 points. Eliyahu and Casspi reached double figures again with 14 and 13 respectively.
The good feelings were short lived for Israel, though, thanks to the defeat in the final tuneup. It was a tale of two halves for the Blue and White. As in the Bosnia game, a nine point halftime advantage melted away in the second half. The Croats chipped away, pulling to within two entering the final frame, where they outscored the Israelis by a dozen to get the victory and capture first place in the international friendly tournament on their home court.
One positive to take out of this one was the all around performance of Sacramento Kings star Omri Casspi, who finished with 23 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists. Maccabi Tel Aviv man Dagan Yivzori notched 12 points.
With that, the exhibitions are now over and the real show begins on September 5, as Israel opens EuroBasket against Russia. It was a difficult summer, but the slate is now wiped clean. The results never quite came, but there is at least one encouraging sign: Omri Casspi finally seems to be rounding into form at the right time.
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