Hapoel Tel Aviv’s winning streak of seven games came to an end with a 96-100 loss to the London Lions in their EuroCup Group A clash in Belgrade on Tuesday night. After securing a playoff spot in last week’s win over Wolves Vilnius, a win for second-placed Hapoel would have increased their lead in the standings over the third-placed Lions. However, it was London who return home victorious and themselves secure a playoff berth. Now only one game separates the 11-3 Hapoel and the 10-4 Lions in the standings, with the 12-1 Paris Basketball above them with one game in hand.
Hapoel got the early advantage, with threes to Xavier Munford and John Holland and a deuce to Tomer Ginat helping them get out to a 10-7 lead over the Lions after 2 minutes of play, with Donte Grantham scoring all of London’s early points. However that was the last that Hapoel would see of the lead, with Conor Morgan making five of six three-point attempts over the next four minutes of play, including scoring 12 points without reply to give London a 19-10 lead halfway through the first quarter. Points to Kyle Alexander, Idan Zalmanson, Will Cummings and Bar Timor prevented the lead from stretching out, but London finished the end of the first quarter 28-19.
Although Hapoel found it easier to score in the second quarter, London were able to extend their lead courtesy of some great shooting, including multiple threes to Luke Nelson and Matthew Morgan, with London stretching their lead out to 58-44 at halftime, concluding a half in which the Lions equaled the EuroCup record of 12 threes in a half.
Hapoel showed that they are a team with fight, with no signs of having thrown in the towel at the main break. Tomer Ginat and Dez Wells each scored 8 points and Hapoel debutant Will Cummings added 5 points of his own in the third quarter alone, with Wells’s three-pointer with a little under four minutes left in the frame reducing London’s lead to only four points at 69-65. The Lions were able to steady, however, with David Nwaba scoring 5 points in the last two minutes to give London a 78-70 lead going into the final 10 minutes of the game.
Hapoel never gave up, with threes from Wells helping reduce the deficit to only 2 points with 25 seconds to go in regulation. However, London managed to avoid being fouled for 20 seconds, allowing them to run the clock down to only 5 seconds when Tarik Phillip went to the free throw line to make two of two. Hapoel were unable to score on the final play and London came away with avaluable 100-96 victory.
Xavier Munford (24 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals), Kyle Alexander (17 points, 8 rebounds and 1 assist) and Bar Timor (15 points, 2 rebounds, 12 assists and 4 steals) led the scoring for Hapoel Tel Aviv, while David Nwaba (17 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal), Conor Morgan (15 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal), Luke Nelson (15 points, 3 assists and 2 steals) and Gabe Olaseni (12 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal) were the main contributors for the victors.
“They deserved to win,” Hapoel coach Danny Franco summed up the game. “Unfortunately, we didn’t come sharp enough. The beginning of the game was terrible for us. We got into a hole that was very difficult to climb out of and that’s something that we need to take into consideration.”
“We cannot start games like that against good teams and we’re going to play the better teams right now in the group,” Franco continued. “But as I always say, for me it’s a lot about how we’re coming into the game and the attitude that we show during the game. We fought to come back in the second half like we usually do, but it was not enough. Maybe we deserved to lose this one, not being focused enough on some details in the second half, because we could have stolen this game, but maybe that game will emphasize what it takes to bring excellence and not just be good.
“I trust my guys and I still love them the same way. I told them that I cannot hang them on a tree, even if I wanted to. I still think we’re worth a lot more than what we showed today. I give a lot of credit to the guys who are replacing the injured guys to help us win. Today it wasn’t enough, but we’ll sit today again and try to make sure that it will be better next week.”
In BCL action, Filou Oostende used a 14-0 run in 5 minutes of play at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half to anchor a win in game two of their play-in series against Hapoel Holon, with a 71-61 victory to the Belgians forcing a deciding game three in Riga next week to see which team will continue to the Round of 16 and which team will go home to focus on their local league.
Shawn Dawson (16 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist), Justin Smith (12 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block) and Deondre Burns (10 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist and 1 steal) were in double figures for the Purples, while Pierre-Antoine Gillet (15 points, 9 rebounds and 2 steals), Damien Jefferson (14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals) and Sam Van Rossom (12 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals) led the scoring for the winners.
“Offensively we played poorly, really bad offense, 60 points and 6 assists, I think that says enough,” Holon coach Amit Schaerf said after the game. “Everybody understands that we need to find a solution on offense. I take it on myself and I take it upon myself and I need to do everything I can to help the team on the offense. We lost on defense in a period of 4-5 minutes when they made a run with the threes. That sealed the games, because the other 35 minutes we did decently on defense. We need to combine much better offense and never let a team run on us like this. We have a game on Saturday and then we’ll fly to Hungary to do everything that we can to win the game.”
“Basically, we came into the game not focused enough and we didn’t execute how we wanted,” Holon forward Netanel Artzi said. “It was a tough loss for us. Now we look to the next game. We need to come focused and execute.”