The United States twice gave up a double-digit lead, but recovered when it counted to snatch a 95-86 overtime victory against Israel in the Maccabiah open men's basketball final in Ra'anana last night.
Led by Spain-based captain Dan Grunfeld, the Americans blitzed the home team in the opening minutes to take a 17-5 lead before giving up the advantage temporarily and going into halftime up 44-41.
The second half started in much the same way as the first, the U.S. again jumping out of the blocks, this time leading by as much as 13, mainly thanks to Grunfeld (25 points and 12 rebounds), Seth Hauben (20 points and 12 rebounds) and Avi Fogel (19 points).
Hapoel Ashkelon's Avi Ben Chimol seemed to be Israel's only player on the court at times, playing all but 39 seconds of the game and finishing with 22 points.
But just as they did in the first half, the young Israeli team - comprising the same under-24 squad that will represent the country in qualifying for the 2012 Olympics - fought back to take an unlikely eight-point lead with just three minutes remaining.
Unfortunately for Israel, that momentum came to a grinding halt when Itai Greenbaum went down with a shoulder injury, and the U.S. scored 10 of the last 12 points to send the game into overtime.
There was no third time's charm for Israel, as the visitors won easily in the extra period, although it may have proven too close to comfort for some, including U.S. head coach and U.S. Jewish Sports Hall of Fame member Bruce Pearl, who rushed straight out of the stadium afterward to catch a flight home.
Assistant coach Harris Adler told Haaretz after the game that the team only had one week together in Philadelphia to prepare before leaving for Israel.
"It was difficult but it wasn't, because this is a great group of kids," he said. "They all put their egos aside."
Six college players were part of the American squad, including University of Pennsylvania freshman Zack Rosen, who said after the game that he would like one day to play professionally in Israel. "I love this country, and I spent a lot of time with the guys who have played here and they love it," he said. "I'm Jewish, so I have pride in that and I have pride that I'm a Jewish player, and where else to play but in the homeland?"
Israel exacted some revenge in the masters final, which followed the main event. Led by Maccabi Tel Aviv legend Doron Jamchi, Israel defeated the United States 93-80.
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