The Israel National Team fell to Georgia 71-69 in overtime in FIBA World Cup Qualifying as their chances to advance to the tournament in China dimmed. Jake Cohen led all scorers with 22 points in Tbilisi while Tomer Ginat added 10 points in the loss. Goga Bitadze who will one day play in the NBA dropped 18 points and George Tsintadze chipped in with 14 in the win.
Both Israel and Georgia had a tough time finding the basket in the first quarter as the Blue & White took a 11-9 lead after and rough and tumble opening ten minutes of play with poor shooting percentages. However, Georgia began to heat up in the second quarter with five 3-pointers to take a 34-30 lead into halftime.
With three minutes remaining in the third quarter and the score 45-37 in favor of Georgia, Israel rattled off four 3’s by four different players, Cohen, Ginat, Guy Pnini and John DiBartolomeo to pull within one point, 50-49 heading into the 4th quarter. In a back and forth frame, Tamir Blatt had the opportunity to win the game with the score all knotted up at 64-64 but his last second three pointer was off the mark sending the contest into overtime.
The extra period followed the script of the first four quarters with tough play, but it would be Georgia who would come out on top after five minutes as Giorgi Shermadini scored the game winner with no time left on the clock to take the victory and for all intents and purposes leave Israeli needing a Hannukah miracle to advance to China in 2019.
1) Israel was taken out of their comfort zone early on as Georgia played a very physical game from the get go and kept shooting percentages very, very, very low. 31% low for Israel, 26% from two which is just not good enough to win. Amazingly, however they were close, a hair close or a call or two, or an offensive foul call short on Shermadini which well wasn’t called as the big man scored the winner as have ran over any Blue & White player that was in his way. Head Coach Oded Katash just couldn’t find a way to get rolling against a tough as nails Georgia team in Tbilisi, “Tough loss. We played well in the first half on the defensive end, but it wasn’t the best game we’ve had. We stayed and calm and we had a chance to win right until the end. They guarded us well and controlled the paint because of our smaller lineup at times while the referees affected the game at the end.” That may be true but take a look at how the players as well; Idan Zalmanson 2/8, Shawn Dawson 1/7, Yovel Zoosman 3/9, Tamir Blatt 3/10 with only 2 assists and you’re just not going to take home the W.
2) Jake Cohen not only scored 22 points he wet 9/9 from the charity stripe, pulled down 8 boards and kept Israel in the game throughout the 45 minutes. The Maccabi Tel Aviv forward has been terrific for Israel and lays it all on the line every single second he’s on the floor. Cohen has been fantastic throughout the tournament and deserves credit for being a true professional both on and off of the court. Jake is a true pro in every sense of the word. Hopefully he will get more credit from Ioannis Sfairopoulos and the Yellow & Blue as he has plenty to offer.
3) Georgia is physically a big team and Israel will always have a tough time matching up with them and for that reason, perhaps they should have run a bit more to create quick and easy baskets off breaks. Of course hindsight is always 20/20. Captain Guy Pnini spike about the difficult night, “Tough feeling to lose this game. Their size made it tough on us, but it’s another step in the process.” Bottom one for Israel is that you can’t teach size and height and therefore will always have to find what’s to compensate. As miserable as their shooting percentage was they did hit 10/25 3-pointers good for 40%.
If Israel would have won, then the final two games in February at home against Germany and on the road at Serbia would have been critical as the Blue & White were in charge of their own destiny and could have been just inches away from advancing to the World Cup. Now that just won’t be the case which means those games will not be as important and that’s good for Maccabi Tel Aviv. The Germany game was slated for February 21st, the same night as Maccabi’s game in Milan which now means there probably won’t be much of an issue with not allowing the Yellow & Biue players to stay with their club team for the Euroleague game.