|Igor Mayor and Israel dug deep in the final moments of the game to claim their first win|
Israel abolished a 16-point lead over Bulgaria on Friday but still managed to prevail 68-66 in a battle between sides that previously had two losses each in Group C of the Sportland U20 European Championship.
The Israelis were a joy to watch during the first half as they imposed a high-pace tempo, fought for every loose ball and their players were always half a step ahead of their Bulgarian counterparts on both ends of the floor.
They led right from tip-off and built a 38-22 lead with 3:34 left to play in the second quarter, as they drilled five of their first 10 shots from behind the three-point arc and 10 of 20 from two-point range, while they have grabbed nine offensive rebounds to make up for their few misses and score second-chance points.
Bulgaria had 11 turnovers and were out-rebounded 22-15 at that point but whatever coach Lyubomir Minchev told is players at half-time produced results.
The Balkan side closed down their paint, controlled the boards and out-rebounded Israel 13-6 in the third quarter to claw their way back and claim their first lead in the game, 49-48, on an Angel Natskin free-throw when there was 58 seconds remaining in the period.
Israel however put more bodies under the basket and started finding again open looks from three-point range to regain a slim lead.
Tom Maayan split two free throws to make it 68-66 for Israel with 21 seconds left on the clock and Bulgaria passed the ball nicely on the last possession to find Kris Minkov in the corner but his three-point attempt under enormous pressure almost at the buzzer did not drop in.
Rafael Menco had 14 points, four rebounds and two assists for the winners while Igor Mayor and Or Solomon added 10 points each; power forward Tomer Ginat already had eight points when he landed badly on the floor 8:15 from the second buzzer and twisted his ankle, unable to return to the game.
Bulgaria power forward Aleks Simeonov finished with a game-high 15 points and eight rebounds in a losing effort.