What a difference two days makes. Team Israel responded from their heartbreaking loss to Bosnia and Herzegovina in a big way, clipping Poland by a score of 75-73. Israel improved to 3-1 in group play and booked a place in the EuroBasket knockout round, while the Poles lost their second in a row to drop to 2-2.
Heading into the game, Coach Erez Edelstein’s men knew they were going to have their hands full guarding Poland’s 6’11 Marcin Gortat. After the first quarter, those expectations were confirmed, as Poland took a two point lead thanks in large part to Gortat’s 8 points inside. It was clear the Blue and White would need to stop the Washington Wizards’ brawny center in order to win this crucial game.
The second quarter saw a transformation in Israel’s fortunes on the defensive end. While the Israelis were only able to get 13 points of their own, they held their opponents to just 8 points, 16 fewer than the 24 Poland poured in during the first frame. The Poles struggled to beat the improved Israeli defense, and the turnovers mounted. On the rare occasions when they managed to get shots off, they were unable to convert, as the Eagles were a dismal 3 of 9 from the field in the quarter.
The game remained remarkably tight throughout the second half. In all, there were 17 lead changes in the game, and neither Israel nor Poland ever opened up more than a five point lead.
Both teams were searching for a difference maker. Lior Eliyahu, celebrating his 30th birthday, was an obvious candidate for Israel, but he played limited minutes due to injury and contributed just four points.
Fortunately for Israel, excellent guard play came to the rescue. Yogev Ohayon sank a critical three point shot with 1:45 remaining to put Israel in control and send the Blue and White faithful into a frenzy.
Point guard Gal Mekel, who led all scorers with 18 points, took over from there. The former Wichita State Shocker was flawless at the charity stripe down the stretch, going a perfect six for six over the final 30 seconds to seal the win.
Poland will still advance to the quarterfinals thanks to Bosnia’s blowout loss to Finland, but carelessness with the basketball could prove their undoing. Coach Mike Taylor noted after the game that Israel tallied 29 points off Poland’s 23 turnovers, which proved to be the difference in a two point game. A key matchup with the Finns is next for the Poles.
Israel, by contrast, can now celebrate its first knockout appearance in EuroBasket in 8 years, and gets a chance to play underdog to Tony Parker and France in a battle for group bragging rights.
Can the Israelis keep turning heads and find a way to steal one from the French? Find out on the Sports Rabbi site!