After three straight losses for Israel’s national basketball team in the European basketball championships, the blue-and-white registered a decisive victory over Belgium with a score of 87-69, keeping its hopes alive for advancing to the second round.
The Israeli team came into the game knowing that if it lost — or didn’t win by a margin of five points — it would be eliminated. For the first time in the tournament, Israel finally showed some hustle and hit open shots that had been missing in the previous three games.
Hapoel Jerusalem’s newly signed Yotam Halperin led the way in the first quarter and contributed a quick nine points.
In the second and third quarters, it was the Afik Nissim show. The veteran point guard, who plays for Hapoel Eilat, made shot after shot and dished several impressive passes to Israel’s big men in the paint. Overall, Nissim hit nine out of the eleven shots he took.
By the time the third quarter ended, Israel outscored the Belgians 32-13 and essentially put the game away.
Israel finished the game shooting a sizzling 62 percent from a three-point range while the Belgians finished with a mere 27 percent.
Despite Israel’s success, Israeli star Omri Casspi once again struggled and only scored two points. In fact, the coaching staff decided to bench him for the entire third quarter.
Casspi has shown obvious signs of frustration throughout the tournament and recently assumed the blame for the national team’s failure during an interview with Sport5 after the team’s third consecutive defeat.
So why has Casspi been struggling so much? Prominent Israeli basketball expert Avi Segal told The Times of Israel he believes there is too much pressure on him to succeed and the pressure is getting to him.
“He wants to lead and do too many things at once. As a result of this he is making so many mistakes,” Segal said.
Segal believes that Casspi can get back into form if he “concentrates on himself” and if his teammates help remove the pressure from him.
“Tonight, they showed they were more than capable of doing that.”
Nissim had his best game of his career with the national team and led his squad scoring 23 points and dishing out five assists. Lior Eliyahu chipped in 13 points, Halperin scored 14 points and Guy Pnini finally ended his shooting slump and contributed 12 points. Maxime De Zeeuw scored a team-high of 14 points for the Belgians.
In order to advance to the second round, the blue-and-white must win its final game in the first round against Germany Monday night and hope that Group A favorites France triumph over Belgium and Ukraine beat a suddenly dangerous Great Britain squad.