Hapoel Jerusalem defeated AEK 85-78 to move their Champions League record to 2-0. The Reds used a ferocious fourth quarter comeback that saw Jerusalem go on a 21-6 run to close out the game. The Greeks were in control for the majority of the contest as Keith Langford scored at will while Howard Sant-Roos proved to be dangerous throughout the clash. But Tashawn Thomas, James Feldeine, Suleiman Briamoh and J’Covan Brown found a way to pull out the tough home victory.
Feldeine led Oded Katash’s squad with 19 points, Braimoh added 17 points and 7 rebounds, Thomas chipped in with 16 points and Brown finished the game with 12 points and 5 crucial assists. Langford dropped 27 points and Sant-Roos scored 18 points playing the full 40 minutes in the loss.
Tashawn Thomas worked the inside for Jerusalem while Keith Langford got busy outside for AEK as the Reds held a slight advantage midway through the first quarter. But the Greek side with Howard Sant-Roos leading the way went 5/6 from beyond the arc to take a 26-25 lead after 10 minutes.
The duo of Sant-Roos and Langford hit back to back triples to start the second quarter but James Feldeine helped get Jerusalem back on track to 33-33 with 6:25 remaining in the half. Another Langford 3-pointer and an acrobatic Kendrick Ray bucket bumped the AEK lead back up by five points forcing Oded Katash to call timeout. Feldeine and Suleiman Braimoh tried to keep the hosts close but Katash was given a technical for arguing with the referees with 27 seconds left in the frame. Marcus Slaughter was then handed an unsportsmanlike foul that resulted in Braimoh hitting his free throws and Brown draining a jumper as Jerusalem went into halftime down by just one point, 47-46.
Nikos Gkikas hit a triple, while back to back offensive rebounds helped AEK race out to a 57-48 lead midway through the third quarter after the visitors grabbed three offensive rebounds in a row forcing Katash to call time to settle his troops. Jerusalem rattled off an 11-0 run to end the frame as Idan Zalmanson scored six points down the stretch to give Jerusalem a 61-60 lead after thirty minutes.
Langford broke the Reds run to start the fourth quarter with a pair of triples and added another one for good measure along with his sidekick Sant-Roos as AEK jumped ahead 72-64 with 6:48 left in regulation time once again forcing Katash to call time and calm down his players. But baskets by Brown, Feldeine and a pair of dunks by Thomas pulled Katash’s crew to within 2 points, 76-74 with 3:20 to go as AEK coach Ilias Papatheodorou called for a timeout. Feldeine and Braimoh nailed 3-pointers, Brown hit an and-1 and sent Jerusalem on its way as the Capital City squad pulled out a 85-78 victory.
1) WOW! WHAT.A.GAME. I’m writing this almost two hours after the final buzzer and I still can’t believe that Jerusalem pulled off the win. And I’m still not sure how AEK lost. The Greeks were the better team throughout the majority of the contest but as they say a basketball game is a full 40 minutes and maybe more. The Reds were able to hang around and hang around and hang around long enough to outlast an AEK team that seemed to hit shot after shot. In fact they went 9/12 from 3-point land in the first half and went 7/17 over the final twenty minutes. Did the Jerusalem players believe that they could win? According to Tashawn Thomas they certainly did, “I can believe it because when AEK went on that late run in the fourth, before I knew how much time was left on the clock I was kind of nervous but when I looked up and saw we had six minutes I knew it was possible.” What was the key? “Our defense.” Coach Katash also spoke about the game that was, “It was tough. AEK shot the ball well and it affected our confidence. I told the players to trust our system and we were lucky they missed some shots in the second half that they hit in the first. For 28 minutes we had seven fouls we have to learn from that. We had some great defense at the end and that’s what won the game for us.”
2) How did AEK lose this game? I’m still trying to figure it out. Langford and Sant-Roos were absolutely lethal all night long and it was if they couldn’t miss even if they wanted to going a combined 10/14 from long disntance. Watching Langford was just magnificent, but one a team usually can’t rely on one or two players. Coach Ilias Papatheodorou said the following about the defeat, “We controlled the game for 35 minutes but the key was Marcus Slaughter’s injury and Jerusalem was able to score a lot of shots at the end.” Big man Dimitris Mavroedis also looked back at the defeat and commented that losing games the way they did against Jerusalem has been an issue of late, “We have had this problem over the last few games where we have lost games that we led. We need to continue to work hard and we will get better.”
3) The key plays in the game in my eyes were the timeouts that coach Katash took in the third and fourth quarters. In the third frame AEK was dominating Jerusalem on the offensive glass and took three rebounds in a row and scored on two to give them a 57-48 lead and at the cusp of running away with the game. But Katash brought Idan Zalmanson on and the big man was just fantastic scoring 6 points to help the Reds go on a 11-0 run. The second critical timeout was when AEK grabbed a 72-64 advantage in the final frame. Katash once again called an intelligent timeout that calmed the whole team down and helped them to the victory. “We just needed to calm down,” explained James Feldeine. “Coach said that we had a lot of time left and he just gave us so much freedom on the court. We changed up a few things including having different players on the pick and roll. We gave coach a headache but it was great timeout. It calmed us down.” Thomas also felt the timeout was the key “play” of the game, “The timeout in the last quarter was key. We knew that after our run to end the third quarter they were going to come back as basketball is a game of runs. We just had to be ready to respond.”
Who helped Jerusalem to the 11-0 run to end the third and keep the Reds in the game? None other than Idan Zalmanson who gave the team a huge shot in the arm when they needed it in the third frame when they were down by ten points, 60-50. Katash praised his center, “He didn’t get many minutes in Turkey but the minutes he was on the court were good. When he’s on the bench he is in the game and very positive which gives the coaching staff confidence that he can go onto the court in any situation. This is the way a player will get more minutes. He gave us some quiet both on offense and defense and he also knew how to foul at the right moments as well.” Zalmanson was cool, calm and collected when he came out to speak to the media, “I believe that one’s role at Hapoel Jerusalem is to always be ready. If I get an opportunity, I have to grab it and do the maximum. We have a great team and the club itself is bigger than any individual player. Every win in the Champions League is very important for us and we know that AEK is an excellent team. Now we have to rest and get ready for Maccabi Tel Aviv.”
Yes, Maccabi Tel Aviv. Jerusalem visits Yad Eliyahu for a rematch of the Winner Cup final and the Reds are very well aware that the contest will not be a walk in the park. Tashawn Thomas knows it won’t be a simple task, “It’s tough winning at Maccabi but we will prepare and be ready to go.” Coach Katash also knows what lies ahead, “We’re heading to play a very challenging road game and we will have to be aggressive for the full 40 minutes in order for us to have the chance to win.” Will Jerusalem keep their perfect record? We’ll find out on Sunday night!