Israel fell to Poland 90-85 in an overtime thriller as Mateusz Ponitka led the way for the hosts to a World Cup qualifying first round victory. With the loss, Israel drops to 2-3 in group play but a win over Estonia at home on Sunday night in their final Group D game will see the blue-and-white through to the second round.
The game opened up with Israel having a difficult time finding the bottom of the basket as Igor Milicic’s team began to build up a lead thanks to Ponitka and Slaughter while Yovel Zoosman and Yam Madar tried to keep Guy Goodes’s team close but headed into halftime down 42-36.
Israel started chipping away in the third and fourth quarters when Rafi Menco scored at will to hand the visitors a 78-75 lead as time wound down. However, Jaroslaw Zyskowski scored a corner 3-pointer to send the game into overtime where Ponitka and AJ Slaughter helped Poland to the 5-point win.
Ponitka paced the hosts with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists, Slaughter added 16 points and Zyskowski chipped in with 15 points in the win. Menco led Israel with 15 points, Madar scored 14 points while Yovel Zoosman, Tamir Blatt and Nimrod Levi each scored 10 points in the loss.
“We didn’t start the game well but we came back in the third quarter,” Israel coach Guy Goodes said. “We were up by 3 near the end of the game but we didn’t make the foul and they made the 3-pointer form the corner and we headed to overtime which is a new game. We lost concentration at the end and they scored some 3’s but the good news is that we still held onto the point differential.”
“It was a very tough game and both teams were very well prepared,” Poland bench boss Igor Milicic explained. “But in the second half we let Israel feel comfortable but at the end we were able to come back and we took a very important and well deserved win.”
Israel veteran forward Guy Pnini reflected on the loss, “We lost the game and it was in our hands but we made some crucial mistakes and we didn’t foul at the end. We didn’t score our free throws and didn’t make the right decisions.”
Jaroslaw Zyskowski who scored important baskets at the end for Poland said, “It was a tough game and we were up pretty much the whole game but they hit some threes to come back and take the lead. But we showed character and desire that we wanted to win the game and we achieved that in overtime.”
AJ Slaughter opened the game with a triple for Poland, Michal Sokolowski scored an easy pair in the paint, John Dibartolomeo found Israel’s first field goal and Nimrod Levi added a layup as the hosts led 9-5 midway through the first quarter. Jaroslaw Zyskowski and Dibartolomeo traded 3-pointers, Jakub Garbacz nailed two from long distance while Tomer Ginat and Yam Madar each added baskets but Igor Milicic’s squad stayed ahead 18-12 after ten minutes of play.
Levi went from deep to begin the second quarter, Garbacz matched his at the other end, Mateusz Ponitka knocked down his free throws, big man Aleksander Balcerowski scored while Madar scored for Guy Goodes’s team but Poland stayed in front 27-18 with 5:33 left in the first half. Madar scored a 3-point play, Roman Sorkin and Slaughter each scored, Michal Kolenda hit a corner 3-ball, while Zoosman and Ponitka traded triples, as Blatt also went from downtown, Zoosman fed Sorkin for a dunk, Ponitka also dialed up long distance as did Guy Pnini as the hosts still held the advantage 42-36 at halftime.
Balcerowski scored to get the third quarter underway, but Madar and Zoosman came back with a couple of quick baskets, Slaughter went from deep as did Tomasz Gielo while Madar scored again to keep the blue-and-white close but down 50-45 midway through the period. Dominik Olejniczak scored a deuce, Slaughter drained a three, Zoosman put down a reverse dunk, Rafi Menco scored a corner 3-pointer, Sorkin scored in the paint and Ginat drilled a triple to pull Israel to within 2-point, 57-55 after thirty minutes of action.
Balcerowski began the fourth quarter with points inside, Madar fed Menco for a basket on the break, Ponitka went from downtown, Zyskowski added an easy bucket in the paint, Menco matched him at the other end as Poland still kept the lead 64-61 with 6:24 left in regulation time. Zyskowski scored again inside, Pnini drilled a triple, Levi hit a 3-pointer and then finished off a team passing play under the basket to give Israel their first lead of the game 69-68 with 3:40 remaining in the final frame.
But Balcerowski dunked, Slaughter his a basking jumper, Blatt went from downtown to even the game back up at 72-72 while Menco scored a corner 3-ball to once again give Goodes’s team the lead 75-72. Menco again went from deep, but Ponitka scored from the charity stripe and Zyskowski scored a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime all knotted up at 78-78.
Blatt dialed up long distance to start off the extra session, Sokolowski cut the lead, Ponitka scored from the line to tie the game up at 82-82, Slaughter nailed a triple, Gielo scored a layup, Madar came back with a 3-point play, but Menco missed a 3-pointer as the time wound down and Sokolowski went from deep to give Poland a 90-85 win.