All the credit in the world has to go to Besiktas in their shocking 73-72 road win against Hapoel Holon. The Turkish club came to Israel without some of their best players and absolutely stunned the hosts who perhaps were a bit too overconfident in their Champions League best of 3 Play In series for a ticket to the Round of 16 Group Stage. The loss was so disturbing it cost head coach Maurizio Buscaglia his job less than 24 hours later.
It should have been a 20-30 point blowout for Buscaglia’s squad, it should have been an easy win for the Italian coach in a series that it doesn’t matter as to how many points you score but only wins and losses. And he lost in what could go down as one of the club’s most disappointing European defeats in its recent history. A game that Holon Chairman Eitan Lanciano said as he left the court was against a “team that didn’t have any players”.
Without three of their imports in NBA veteran Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevon Bluiett and Josh Reaves but with 15 year old Yagiz Aksu, 17 year old Oguzhan Goktepe and 19 year old Furkan Haltali along with veterans Isaiah Whitehead, Dedric Lawson and Kenan Sipahi, Besiktas put on a complete perfect basketball game right out of the annals of Turkish hoops.
Head Coach Ahmet Kandemir had the perfect game plan for the entire 40 minutes to notch the victory, which moves them to within one win of the Round of 16 and sending Holon back to the drawing board.
The veteran Turkish bench boss made sure to conserve Isaiah Whitehead’s energy throughout the first half in order for the game’s MVP to put his side on his shoulders as the game went into crunch and take the win. 16 second half points by the Seton Hall guard including some impossible 3-pointers and the game winning drive to the hoop cancelled out Guy Pnini’s clinical triple which had looked to put the Purples up one game to none. But it was not to be.
“Coming into the game we had missing players,” coach Kandemir said. “But we stuck to our game plan and played great defense. At halftime we spoke about a few things and in the second half even though we had guys in foul trouble we got the win.”
Siphai, who has plied his trade in the Euroleaue with Fenerbahce as well as in Spain in the ACB League shared the secret to Besiktas’s success in Holon, “This was a big and important win for us and it was the next man up mentality. We are a group of guys who know how to play basketball. When you play and know basketball and see what the defense gives you can always be in the game. You can make or miss your shots even if it’s at the end of the game, but if you try to play the right way you can always stay in the game.”
And that is exactly what Besiktas did, they played solid basketball, did not panic when they went down by close to ten points and stayed in the game in order to be able to find a way to win at the end.
“If you have two really good ball handlers you can control an away game,” Kandemir explained. “The players made good decisions on where the ball should go for themselves and for their teammates. We were here with four missing players from our rotation, but in spite of that we had two players who were 15 and 17 years old and they played really really tough in this great atmosphere in a Champions League Play In game. Last year we gave the NBA and the Euroleague some players and we expect that these players will do the same in the future.”
And that’s the truth. Last season Besiktas featured 19-year old Alperen Sengun who was selected with the 16th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and is now an important cornerstone for the Houston Rockets while Sehmus Hazer at the age of 22 joined Fenerbahce and is a regular Euroleague rotation player.
Whitehead who played for a couple of seasons with the Brooklyn Nets is the prototypical tough guard that can play both sides of the ball while making teams miserable with his offense and his shut down defense which is what he did to an overmatched Holon.
“He’s one of the best scorers in the Champions League as a two guard and one of the strongest as well,” Siphai said following the game. “He was able to match up well and he has been doing this for us this entire season.”
The game MVP himself was all smiles as well as he described his game winner, “We just knew we needed a bucket and a stop. That is how we win games. It means a lot to win as everybody stepped up and we got a big win on the road. We are looking forward to the next game at home.”
One person who won’t be looking forward to the next game and in fact won’t be around is former Holon head coach Maurizio Buscaglia who is now out of a job very quickly. The bench boss’s game plan was flawed from the get go as he had the perfect opponent to expose with such a short roster of only 9 players and he was unable to do just that.
Holon has lost a number of brutal games this season. From a blowout loss at Eilat this past weekend to a brutal defeat to them a few weeks ago, as well as losses to Hapoel Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa to go along with a pair of awful BCL defeats at Cluj and Darussafaka, Holon has lacked balance and consistency.
But what was unforgivable in this game against Besiktas is that it looked and felt that they did not understand that this was a playoff game, that this was a MUST WIN at all costs.
There was a lack of urgency throughout the 40 minutes other than when Adam Smith took the bull by the horns late in the game. Otherwise, Holon was playing what was another run of the mill game.
The blame for that has to be squarely placed on Buscaglia and there is no way around that as he came into the postgame press conference looking to make excuses about a non call on the final possession that saw Chris Johnson tied up under the hoop.
He had to have his players up for this game and he did not. Sure, the players share a part of the blame but it’s clear that he has lost their faith and a change on the sidelines was an immediately necessity with Hapoel Tel Aviv coming up on Sunday night and game two of the BCL Play In slated in Istanbul next Wednesday.
Holon shook things up fast before it was too late and with coaches like Guy Goodes and Oded Katash and perhaps even Stefanos Dedas who was in charge last season available, Holon acted swiftly and responsibly.
Should they lose in Turkey then that is it for continental play for the 2021/22 campaign and you can kiss the BCL goodbye. For a team like Holon, that can not be the case.
Holon will certainly need to give a better effort and Smith is aware of that, “It was a basketball game. It was a playoff type game and both teams made plays down the stretch. We also made some good plays but credit goes to them and Isaiah Whitehead. We have to stay hungry and stay together and see what we can do better.”
A playoff type game? It was a playoff game. If that is a comment from one of the players, then they just did not know where they were and that is something Buscaglia obviously did not do a good enough job in making crystal clear.
This was a game that Holon had to have under the circumstances and that the scales were totally tilted in their favor. They couldn’t take advantage of the situation and now they are just 40 minutes from being eliminated from Europe. Holon at the end of the day did not understand the importance of the moment.