Co-host Israel was knocked out of the EuroBasket European basketball championship Tuesday night after losing a nail-biting thriller to Georgia in the last seconds of overtime.
Having lost two previous games to Italy and Lithuania, the blue and whites needed a win against Georgia for a chance to advance from the group stage and make it into the knockout rounds of the international competition.
Point guard Gal Mekel led the Israeli squad with 23 points, while Richard Howell chipped in with 19. But strong individual performances were not enough to propel the home team to victory against a strong Georgia, which ended up winning 104-91.
Tornike Shengelia had a double-double of 25 points and 19 rebounds to lead Georgia, which also got 19 points from Zaza Pachulia, 18 from Michael Dixon and 17 from Duda Sanadze.
The game was close throughout, with the biggest regular time lead coming in Israel’s advantage, 42-33 at halftime. By the fourth quarter, however, Gerogia had made up the margin, with Shegelia putting his team ahead 80-79 with a free throw with less that five minutes to play.
In the thrilling final minutes, Israel and Georgia traded places for the lead before an Omri Casspi layup forced overtime at 89-89.
But the national team seemed to unravel during overtime with tired players struggling to keep up with an energized Georgia, which routed the hosts 15-2 to claim victory.
Israeli basketball fans had been eagerly anticipating for 18 months since it was announced that the country would, for the first time in its history, co-host the tournament.
Six squads, including Israel, faced off in a knockout group phase at Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim Arena that began on August 31. Other group action was also taking place in Finland, Romania and Turkey.
The final two knockout rounds, now without Israel, are set to take place in Istanbul.
Last year’s European basketball championship was the first to be hosted by multiple countries and FIBA says it opted to follow the same path for the 2017 edition due to its “unprecedented success.”