Israel defeated France 81-70 and advance to the finals of the Under-20 European Championships where they will face Spain on Sunday night in Tel Aviv. After a tight first half, the Blue & White broke open the game thanks to superb play by Deni Avdija with 26 points, 11 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 blocked shots, Eidan Alber with 20 points, Yam Madar (13 points) and Raz Adam (12 points). Ludovic Beyhurst led France with 16 points.
France jumped out to an 11-0 start as Ludovic Beyhurst scored at will, but Israel quickly came back thanks to strong play from Deni Avdija and Eidan Alber to take a 20-15 after ten minutes of action. Avidja once again took the bull by the horns early in the second quarter for the Blue & White but Dylan Affomama and Eddy Kaylouloud helped claw France back to send the game into halftime all knotted up at 35-35.
Raz Adam and Yair Kravits gave Israel a 48-45 lead midway through the third quarter while Madar and Alber continued the Blue & White attack as the hosts took a 54-50 advantage into the final frame. France tried to keep it close in the early stages of fourth quarter but Avdija, Adam and Alber gave Israel a 9-point, 66-57 lead with five minutes left in regulation time and that was all she wrote as the Blue & White advanced to the tournament final against Spain thanks to the 11-point victory.
1) Deni Avdija was purely unstoppable. The slated NBA lottery pick in the 2020 draft was magnificent on the floor and dominated every facet of the game. Whether it was scoring when Israel needed it most, grabbing an important rebound, stealing the ball or blocking another one of France’s shots, the Blue & White prodigy has proven to head and shoulders above every other player in this tournament. Coach Ariel Beit Halachmi has said throughout the competition that he won’t talk about a single player but just about the National Team as a whole but let’s face the facts, without Avdija Israel doesn’t make it to the Finals and who knows if they would have even made it to this point. However, Advija won’t take any credit, “This is one National Team. We battled together and there isn’t one player above another. You’ve seen that on any given day a different player can step up.”
2) This was a game of runs. It took Israel to some time to get going as France blitzed the hosts to take an 11-0 lead to start the game. But with the score 15-7 for the French, the Blue & White rattled off a 13-0 run to take a 20-15 advantage into the second quarter. In the final frame when the score was 57-57, Beit Halachmi’s charges once again broke the contest open with an 11-0 run to seal the deal and punch their ticket to the finals for the third time in as many years. For the coach this will be his second in a row and a chance to repeat the feat that was accomplished last year in Germany. “The process that the players have gone through has been an absolute experience from where we began to where we are now. They deserve a huge amount of credit for what they’ve gone through the past two months.”
3) Israel defeated Spain in the warmup tournament 88-78 and will now face them once again. To advance to the semifinals the Blue & White had to exact revenge on a pre-tourney loss to Lithuania and now the Spaniards will be looking to do the same thing. However, it’s important to note that Israel was without a number of players for that game while Spain played only the first half with their star guard Carlos Alocen. Joel Parra will be out due to an injury suffered in the quarterfinals but that still didn’t stop Spain from easily getting by an over matched Germany 80-62 with Alocen scoring 18 points and Sergi Martinez also notching 18 points while pulling down 13 rebounds. I asked Avdija about Spain looking for revenge on the loss they suffered over a week ago, “Lithuania also wanted revenge and what happened?” Raz Adam also spoke about Sunday night’s final, “Spain is one of the great basketball countries and they are favorites in every championship and at every age group. We will have to prepare well and I am sure that we will do so. Just like in every other game, we will give it our all.”
They Said it…
Yotam Hanochi – “We believed in ourselves from the first time the squad met.”
Eidan Alber – “When we went into halftime the score was tied and we spoke about how they had 23 more balls than us with 10 offensive rebounds and that we had 13 turnovers and we were still in the game. We knew that we could do it.”
Noam Avivi – “I can understand why Spain is concerned because the fans are supporting us and we will need them once again in the Final.”