In one of Israel’s most embarrassing performances in recent years, Great Britain beat the blue-and-white 75-71 in overtime Wednesday night in the Eurobasket opening game.
The UK underdogs were expected to fare poorly in the basketball tournament, but a lackluster performance by Israeli star Omri Casspi and dismal execution from the free throw line resulted in an 0-1 start for Israel.
Playing in front of around 800 spectators in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the Israelis got off to a poor start, missing a string of shots. Yotam Halperin only scored the team’s first field goal three-and-a-half minutes into the first quarter.
By the end of the first quarter, Great Britain commanded a five point lead, which it held through the end of the first half.
After halftime, however, Israel rallied and took a nine point lead over the Brits with just over three minutes left to the game.
But several key turnovers in the final minutes, and botched free-throws by Casspi and Lior Eliyahu, saw Israel’s lead evaporate, to the astonishment of players and pundits alike. Israel only hit one out of its ten free-throws in the final minutes of regulation and overtime, and just over 50 percent overall.
Casspi, who was recently signed by the Houston Rockets, only hit three out of 14 baskets from the field.
In overtime, Israel started off strong and leaped ahead 71-67, but the British went on a final 8-0 run to close out the game.
Hapoel Eilat point guard Afik Nissim led the Israeli squad with 17 points, followed by Casspi with 13, and free-agent Eliyahu with 11. For the winning Great Britain side, Kyle Johnson dominated with 22 points, and center Kieron Achara scooped up 13 rebounds.
Israel’s head Coach Arik Shevik told reporters after the match that “We had a good lead and then we came to a situation where we were missing free throws, and that was the game.”
Israel faces a tough Ukrainian side at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, and the Tony Parker-led French squad on Friday.