Israel fell to Serbia 97-76 dashing the blue-and-white’s hopes of securing a place at this summer’s FIBA World Cup in China. The host’s grabbed the lead early on and dominated an overmatched Israel squad throughout the 40 minutes at the Aleksandar Nikolic Hall in Belgrade. Vladimir Lucic led all scorers with 22 points, Dragan Milosavljevic dropped 20 points and Milos Tedosoc scored 11 points and dished out 9 assists in the win. Jake Cohen topped the Israel scorers with 16 points, TJ Cline added 12 points while a trio of players, Deni Avdija, Iftach Ziv and Idan Zalmanson all scored 10 points in the loss.
Milosavljević and Teodosic helped Serbia jump out to a 26-18 lead after ten minutes while four triples by Israel accounted for the majority of their points in the first quarter. Things didn’t get any better for the blue-and-white in the second frame as the host’s scored at will with Milosavljević dropping 18 first half points to head into the break up 49-33.
Serbia extended their lead to 67-50 after 3 quarters of action as Lucic and Teodosic did the damage for the host’s while Cohen tried in vain to keep Israel in the game with ten minutes remaining. Lucic continued pouring on the offense in the final frame as Serbia took the 21-point 97-76 win to advance to the FIBA World Cup in China this coming summer.
1) In a packed Aleksandar Nikolic Hall, the same facility that Maccabi Tel Aviv won their first European Championship in 1977, Israel was dominated on the floor and in the stands as over 5,000 fans flooded the arena and another 2,000 were left outside. Israel was totally overmatched in Belgrade in a game that was never close. With so many quality players in Teodosic, Milutinov, Lucic, Milosavljevic, Serbia is one of the best teams in the world and rightfully deserved their place in this coming summer’s World Cup. The Serbians were bigger, better and a superior overall national team than Israel. After losing in Estonia on Thursday, Serbia called in reinforcements to ensure that they wouldn’t falter against Israel and blow their chance to qualify.
2) One of the things Israel can take away from this Tournament was that they went into the last game with a chance to still qualify. That in itself was a huge accomplishment and one that the can’t easily be dismissed. “It was disappointing,” began Idan Zalmanson following the game, “but I’m very proud of my teammates that we were able to make the last game an important one. To play against Serbia is very tough and they are very talented.” Coach Oded Katash echoed his comments, “We played against one of the best teams in the world and we knew it wouldn’t be easy, I’m proud that the players fought until the end. We can take these experiences for the future.”
3) In fact, Israel probably overachieved in this campaign with many new faces, younger players a new coach and a brand new style of qualification tournament. The blue-and-white navigated through two rounds of qualifying to have a chance to make it to the big tournament in China. From wins at Great Britain and at home against Serbia, Israel surprised some and turned a few heads in the process. However, they still had all kinds of problems with Greece, Georgia and even Estonia on the road not to mention a tough Serbian squad in Belgrade. Coach Katash knew that it was an impressive showing despite falling in the final group game, “I’m proud of the players. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We had campaign with a lot of young players and we did better than we expected.”
One of the very bright lights was Deni Avdija who is ticketed to being an NBA lottery pick in the 2020 draft. Following his MVP performance at the NBA Basketball Without Borders Camp in Charlotte last week, Katash added the 18 year old to his squad for the final two games of the campaign. Avdija will feature for Israel this summer at the Under-20 European Championships that will be held in Tel Aviv and helped capture a gold medal for the same side this past summer in Germany. There will be plenty of eyes watching Avdija’s development and being in Israel allows us to have a front row seat for what looks to be the next Israeli in the NBA. Talents like Avdija don’t come along all that often in Israel and the blue-and-white should be very pleased with his 10 points going a perfect 3/3 from the field and 2/2 from the free throw line in 16 minutes. The future is looking up for Israeli basketball.