Israel defeated Germany 81-77 at the Drive In Arena to keep their FIBA World Cup hopes alive. Deni Avdija, TJ Cline and Gil Beni all made their debuts in the crucial victory. The Blue & White were resilient throughout the 40 minutes and will travel to Belgrade where they will face Serbia for a chance to make history. A win coupled with a Georgia loss and Israel heads to China this summer. Should Georgia defeat Estonia, Israel will need to beat Serbia by 22 points. TJ Cline made his debut scoring 14 points and grabbed 5 rebounds, Iftach Ziv and Rafi Menco scored 10 points a piece, Guy Pnini knocked down three 3-pointers while Golan Gutt and Idan Zalmanson each scored 8 points in the win. Niels Giffey and Andreas Obst scored 16 points each while Paul Zipser added 15 points in the loss.
Bar Timor and Rafi Menco led the way for Israel to take a 36-35 first half lead as each scored 7 points for the Blue & White while Paul Zipser has 12 points and Niels Giffey added 8 points for Germany.
TJ Cline’s 6 points 3rd quarter points made sure Israel held a 54-52 lead after 30 minutes as the sides headed into the decisive frame. However, with 3:35 left in the contest, the visitors held a slim 66-64 advantage but Oded Katash’s side went on a 12-2 as Idan Zalmanson rattled off 6 points and Guy Pinini drilled home a pair of triples to give the Blue & White a 76-68 lead with 1:33 to go.
But the Germans didn’t wave the white flag and drained a trio of 3-pointers with Andreas Obst hitting two of them to pull within a pair of points, 79-77 with 16 seconds left in the game. A Pnini turnover gave Obst a chance to take the lead, but the sharpshooter missed his chance and Cline scored a pair of free throws to wrap up the 81-77 to keep their FIBA World Cup chances alive.
1) Israel Coach Oded Katash placed his trust in both new and young players and was rewarded for his faith in them. TJ Cline came on first to make his debut, played 24 minutes and scored 14 points while pulling down 5 rebounds to earn The Sports Rabbi MVP award. Gil Beni followed Cline a couple of minutes later as the captain of the Under-20 team to the European Championship this past summer clocked in with 14 minutes. Finally Deni Avdija graced the National Team court for the first time with 8 minutes remaining in the first half when he replaced Idan Zalmanson. Add to the mix Golan Gutt who received serious playing time with close to 20 minutes scored and scored 8 points and you’ve got some brand new faces that Israel can rely on going forward. Katash summed up their performances, “I asked Guy Pnini to be the coach on the court and be the leader. I was happy how Deni and Gil were prepared to play at this level. Age is one of the elements that we looked at when we built the team and we evaluated the complete player. I told the younger players before the game not to be afraid to make mistake.”
2) TJ Cline who picked up The Sports Rabbi MVP award was all smiles following his debut as the Hapoel Holon forward was just plain fantastic as the continued his fine play from his league season to date. “It felt great,” the son of basketball great Nancy Lieberman said, “You know these guys play with such heart and such intensity and the coach is so thorough, it’s unbelievable here. I love the coach and everything about it, it’s truly a blessing to be here and I’m thrilled to be here. We got to keep it going into Serbia.”
Cline credited his teammates for his fine performance, “It was the guys finding me open. I was just rolling getting easy layups and we have a really unselfish group here and credit to those guys. Everybody chipped in, everybody played hard and they made my job easy.” Coach Katash complimented his forward, “TJ was focussed and understood how playing for the Israel National Team was a huge honor. We saw his enthusiasm all week during practice.”
3) Israeli phenom Deni Avdija played 11 minutes and didn’t look one bit out of place as an 18 year old playing amongst men. Although he only hit a lone free throw, he grabbed 4 rebounds, some of which in crunch time when he played a critical part of the win over the last minute and a half. The Sports Rabbi caught up Avdija immediately following and the contest,” It was great, amazing,” the NBA prospect began. “An amazing experience being with all of the fans of Israel. It was an important win and it was great to play well in my debut. I’m very proud of my team for the effort and the win. We need to keep it like this and I hope we are going to do good things. It felt amazing.”
Avdija also complimented his National Team coach who brought him in when the game was on the line, “I really like Oded, he is a great coach. I gave 100% all game and when he brought me in I made sure to continue to give all of my effort. I’m very proud of everybody and also myself.” Katash had kind words for the NBA and FIBA Basketball Without Borders MVP and showed complete trust in him, I really liked how Deni reacted when he missed a couple of shots and I am happy that he took them because he was open. He had a huge assist and a number of critical rebounds.”
With the win Israel is still in the hunt for a place in the FIBA 2019 World Cup. Together with the Blue & White victory, Estonia shocked Serbia 71-70 and Georgia fell to Greece giving Katash a shot of going to China this summer. Israel will need to win in Serbia and should Georgia beat Estonia they’ll need to win big, by 22 points in order to advance. If Georgia falls to Estonia all the Blue & White will have to do is win in Belgrade which of course is not as simple as it sounds in from of a packed Pionir Arena.
Avdija spoke about the chances, “It’s a little bit of pressure, but I think we are going to do a good thing and if we’re going to keep playing like this, I think we can beat everybody.” Cline was also optimistic as the team heads to Serbia, “I can tell you we’re ready. This group is chomping at the bit to get out there and we’re only getting started.” Coach Katash was also upbeat with the chance to still be alive on the final day of qualifying, “It’s a compliment that we they will talk about us having a chance to win in Serbia. They also need the win and they are the clear favorites. We will go into the game and give it our all and this game will give us yet more experience. All in all this will be a great experience for the players.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv players Jake Cohen and Yovel Zoosman will join the Israel squad in Belgrade and will most probably replace Nimrod Levi who didn’t play in the win over Germany and perhaps Gil Beni. Speaking of Maccabi, they fell in Milan 87-83 and saw their record fall to a precarious 10-13 with very little room to falter again. Most probably, the Yellow & Blue will need to go 6-1 to make it into the Top 8 which will be a very difficult task ahead. Scottie Wilbekin scored 20 points, Michael Roll added 16 points and Johnny O’Bryant chipped in with 14 points and 8 rebounds. Mike James scored 19 points, Curtis Jerrells dropped 16 points, Jeff Brooks had 15 points and James Nunnally added 13 points in the win.