Hapoel Jerusalem began its Eurocup campaign with a clear goal of winning the competition and qualifying for the Euroleague.
In its worst nightmares Jerusalem didn’t envision a scenario in which it wouldn’t qualify for the Top 16, not to mention lose any chance of progressing with one regular season game to play.
But that is exactly what happened on Wednesday night, with Hapoel adding another embarrassing loss to this season’s ever-growing list, falling 79-66 at home to Reggio Emilia of Italy.
Jerusalem had to win to keep its chances alive entering its final regular season game against Galatasaray in Istanbul.
But instead, Hapoel’s players will be traveling to Turkey as tourists next week, knowing they will finish Group B in last place regardless of the outcome of the game.
Jerusalem dropped to a 2-7 record, suffering its fourth defeat in five home games. The team lost just once at home throughout last season’s Eurocup campaign in which it went all the way to the semifinals.
Hapoel entered the final quarter on Wednesday trailing by just two points (62-60). But it managed only six points in the final 10 minutes, hitting 2-of-10 field-goal attempts and committing six turnovers.
“We didn’t deserve to win this game and this defeat epitomizes our entire campaign which wasn’t good enough basketball-wise and attitude-wise,” said Hapoel coach Mody Maor, who began the season as an assistant coach to Fotis Katsikaris and has lost three of four Eurocup games since replacing him.
“Hapoel Jerusalem has problems and I knew about them before I accepted the job. I didn’t come here to do magic. I came here to work. We will continue to work and try and improve with every practice and every game.”
Jerome Dyson did all he could for Jerusalem, but his 27 points were not enough. The only other bright spot for the hosts was the play of Ronald Roberts, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Hapoel, which has lost five of six games over all competitions so far in December, visits Ironi Nahariya in a knockout State Cup tie on Saturday.
Chris Wright had 19 points for Reggio Emilia, which improved to 4-5 despite playing without its leading scorer Amedeo Della Valle.
After a tight first half ended in a onepoint Reggio Emilia lead (41-40), Jerusalem opened the third quarter with a 10-2 run, establishing a seven-point gap (50-43) following a Dyson three.
However, Hapoel scored just five points in the final five minutes of the period and the visitors took a twopoint edge into the last 10 minutes.
The game and the campaign were on the line, but rather than rising to the occasion Jerusalem completely capitulated.
The Italians went on a 9-0 run over three minutes to take a 71-62 advantage and never lost control. Jerusalem was utterly hapless, and in many ways its fans were relieved, rather than disappointed, that the disastrous campaign was finally over.