Israel wrapped up the group stage of the Under-20 European Championship with a 93-74 victory over Ukraine to finish with a 2-1 record, good for second place as they head into a knockout Round of 16 contest against Montenegro on Wednesday. Deni Avdija led the way for the blue-and-white with 21 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks, Yam Madar added 12 points and 9 assists while Yair Kravits dropped 18 points in the win.
Israel stalled out of the gate as Issuf Sanon and Andrii Voinalovych dominated play early on while Avdija tried to keep the Blue & White close as Ukraine took a 29-17 lead after ten minutes. However, strong play by Raz Adam, Kravits and Avdija helped cut the Ukraine lead to just a pair of points, 45-43 by the end of the second quarter while the deft Sanon picked up his 4th foul before the halftime break.
Vadym Kozak drilled home a pair of triples for Ukraine to begin the third quarter but Noam Avivi and Kravits helped Israel finally take a 66-61 lead by the end of the frame as the squads headed into the fourth quarter. Avdija and Madar shifted into high gear over the final ten minutes to help Israel run away with a 93-74 victory.
1) Israel didn’t need to rely on the Avdija and Madar show for this contest as a number of players put in solid performances for Ariel Beit Halachmi’s squad over the first three quarters. Sure Avdija and Madar finished the evening with 21 and 12 points respectively, but it was the workers that won this game for Israel. Whether it was Yair Kravits on both sides of the ball, Noam Avivi’s play driving to the basket, Amit Suss with tenacious defense or Raz Adam being the spark plug when the team needed it most, the Junior Blue & White continued to mold as a team; the team that Beit Halachmi has been trying to put together for a short tournament run. Adam spoke about coming together as a team, “We played as a team in the win over Italy and even when things aren’t going that well we have to keep playing together.” Yam Madar had high price for his teammates, “This was a team win and Raz Adam was great, Kravits was terrific and everyone supported one another on the defensive side. I’m proud of them.” Finally Coach Beit Halachmi says he is still looking for that complete game from his squad, “Our game still isn’t fluid despite the fact that we are scoring over 90 points a game. This isn’t the team from a week ago and I am waiting for it to happen. Then I’ll be happy.
2) Through three games, Israel is still trying to find a way to play for a full 40 minutes, however, most teams are in the same boat as the blue-and-white. Only two teams went a perfect 3-0 in the group stage, France and Spain while Turkey, Serbia, Croatia, Greece and Lithuania all finished with a 2-1 record, the same as Israel’s. Should Israel defeat Montenegro on Wednesday night Coach Ariel Beit Halachmi’s team will face the winner of the Lithuania and Latvia Round of 16 match up in a Thursday quarterfinal date. After an off day on Friday, the semifinals will be played Saturday evening with the final slated for Sunday night. The players know that they will have to make sure they get out to a good start versus Montenegro or else they may not be in the latter stages of the tournament. Israel was able to turn it around against Ukraine but spotting your opponent a 15 point lead isn’t always a wise way to win a game. Beit Halachmi commented on the atrocious start, “I take the blame for the first half and the first five minutes of the second quarter. But we still aren’t playing the way we need to play and I am waiting for us to do so.” Avdija also looked at the issue at hand, “In each of the three games we were able to really explode with a tremendous amount of energy at some point. Our goal is to be able to do that throughout the whole game and not just at certain points. I’m sure we will work on that aspect with the coaches and do everything that we can in the upcoming games.” Yam Madar also talked about the rough start, “We woke up on the defensive side and we began to press and make steals which allowed us to run and score easy baskets. But we have to make sure we get into the game from the get go and we went down by 15 points. We have to learn from this and make sure that it doesn’t happen in the upcoming games.”
3) The story of the tournament to date has been Israel’s fans who have shown up in droves selling out the Drive In Arena for three straight games delighting the FIBA organizing committee as well as the players. “The fans have been great,” commented Beit Halachmi. “I have to acknowledge the fact that they are here supporting us each and every day.” Israel’s star Deni Avdija had only praise for the home crowd support, “It’s always great to play at home with a tremendous atmosphere from our fans. I want to thank all of them who have been here so far and I certainly don’t take it for granted. The fans influence how we play and because of that we were able to come back against Ukraine and they pushed us to give more than 100%.” Raz Adam also spoke about the fan support, “We really enjoyed the second half where we all played together which is something we need to continue to do with the fans. It’s a lot of fun to play like we did over the last twenty minutes.”
They said it…
Ariel Beit Halachmi: “We have a quality players with character and it’s great to see them fighting and not giving up even when we were down significantly.”
More Beit Halachmi: “Wednesday’s game against Montenegro will be do or die and it’s good that we have a day off to rest up.”
Deni Avdija: “Montenegro is a tough team and I’m not familiar with them but we will battle for very ball and I believe that we will win.”