Looking up: Jerusalem takes game 1 over AEK in tight defensive battle

Apr 4, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

In a tough battle at home, Hapoel Jerusalem came away with a 64-55 win over AEK Athens to take a 1-0 lead in their Basketball Champions League quarterfinal best-of-3 series. Speedy Smith helped Aleksandar Dzikic’s team open up a big league early on and then helped close the contest with important baskets in the fourth quarter to close out the game.

The Reds jumped all over the Greek squad to take a 20-point, 26-6 lead after the first quarter but the visitors slowly but surely chipped away at the advantage with a terrific third quarter from Kenny Williams. Ilias Kantzouris‘s side had a pair of chances to go in front in the final frame but a turnover and a missed layup allowed Jerusalem and Smith the opportunity to bump the lead back up as they took the victory.

Or Cornelius – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Smith led the way with 20 points, Levi Randolph added 12 points while Khadeen Carrington and Or Cornelius each scored 8 points in the win. Williams paced AEK with 18 points and Akil Mitchell scored 12 points in the loss.

Aleksandar Dzikic – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“The game was the way we were expecting it was going to be,” Dzikic began following the game. “Both teams play a similar style where both had to work hard to score points. Both teams could have played better and we know it will be super tough in Athens and for them it will be do or die.”

“It was a very tough game with a lot of physical contact,” Coach Kantzouris said. “We lost momentum at the start and we turned over the ball, but I am happy as to how we fought back at a very difficult court to play on. At the end it was the missed details and we used most of our energy trying to cut the gap and now we have to win at home and bring the series back here.”

Speedy Smith and Khadeen Carrington – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Game MVP Speedy Smith also looked back at the win, “We understand that they are a very good team and have some great shooters as well. We expected them to make a run at some point and luckily we forced them into two misses and at the end of the day we held them to 55 points and we were in good position to win.”

Kenny Williams and Akil Mitchell – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Kenny Williams also reflected on the contest, “Hard fought game. We let them build a 20 point lead and at this stage of the season you can’t let that happen. But we came together and brought some fight back and it came down to details and not executing at the end.”

Levi Randolph – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Speedy Smith opened up the scoring for Hapoel Jerusalem while Levi Randolph went from deep but Akil Mitchell countered for AEK, however, Or Cornelius’s steal and dunk led the Reds to a 21-0 run to end the quarter and a 26-6 lead. Jerusalem’s shooting from deep went cold to start the second quarter as Isaiah Miles and Kenny Williams took full advantage and sent the visitors on a 11-0 run but buckets by Randolph and Mareks Mejeris kept Aleksandar Dzikic’s squad in front 36-24 at halftime.

Isaiah Miles and Kenny Williams – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Mejeris began the third quarter with a pair of blocks to keep AEK at bay but Williams and Dimitris Filonis each scored a pair of baskets while Jerusalem had trouble getting the ball inside to big man Zach Hankins who was held to only 2 points in the first half as the Greek side continued to cut the lead down to 39-36 midway through the period. Mejeris scored and played facilitator for a Brandon Brown triple, but Williams kept scoring to get to within a point but Khadeen Carrington drained a 3-pointer to end the period up 49-45.

Aleksandar Dzikic and Or Cornelius – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Miles went from downtown to start off the fourth quarter, but when Oriola missed a chance to give AEK the lead as Smith and Cornelius scored to keep Jerusalem ahead 56-50 with 5:06 remaining in regulation time. Smith then took control and scored 6 points and dished out an assist to send Jerusalem to the 1-0 series lead.

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