Hapoel Jerusalem guard E.J. Rowland.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Despite having little to play for, Hapoel Jerusalem fought back from a 21-point deficit to claim a 93-92 win over Hapoel Tel Aviv at the Drive-In Arena on Sunday night thanks to E.J. Rowland’s three-pointer with 2.7 seconds to play.
Jerusalem trailed 68-47 early in the second half, but a 16-2 run saw it take the lead (89-86) midway through the fourth quarter on a Rowland triple.
Tel Aviv kept battling and took the lead thanks to Robert Rothbart’s dunk with one minute remaining. But Rowland’s dramatic three ensured Jerusalem extended its winning streak to 10 games, improving to 25-6 after already securing the No. 1 seed last week.
Yotam Halpein led Jerusalem with 20 points and seven assists, while Lior Eliyahu had 14 points, six assists and five rebounds in his return from injury.
“We learned today that we will go backwards if we are soft and naive,” said Jerusalem coach Danny Franco, who rested Donta Smith. “We saw we will lose if we don’t show up properly for games, but ended up showing a lot of heart. If we meet Hapoel Tel Aviv in the playoffs, which will likely happen, we will need to remember what happened here in the first half or we will be punished.”
Tel Aviv had won three straight games entering the contest, but it couldn’t make it four in a row and has yet to officially secure its place in the playoffs. Tel Aviv was playing without three-time NBA dunk champion Nate Robinson, who served the one-game suspension he was handed by the Israel Basketball Association last week after clashing with Ironi Ness Ziona’s Mitchell Watt and being ejected.
The top eight will advance to the postseason, with the No. 1 seed to play the No. 8, No. 2 to face No. 7, No. 3 to come up versus No. 6 and No. 4 to clash with No. 5. The winners of the quarterfinals will progress to a Final Four tournament to decide the champion in Jerusalem, with the top seed having the right to select the host venue.
On Monday, third-place Maccabi Haifa (17-13) visits Maccabi Kiryat Gat (10-20), while Maccabi Rishon Lezion (14-16) hosts Maccabi Ashdod (12-18). Hapoel Holon (11-19) welcomes Ironi Ness Ziona (10-20) in a crucial game in the battle against relegation.
Holon has a one-game cushion over Kiryat Gat and Ness Ziona with three games to play, but with encounters to come against Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem to end the season, it can scarcely afford not to triumph on Monday.
The team to end the regular season in last place will be relegated to the National League.
On Tuesday, Maccabi Tel Aviv (21-9) visits Hapoel Eilat (16-14) and Ironi Nahariya (16-14) hosts Bnei Herzliya (15-15).