Hapoel Eilat coach Oded Katash admitted his team required a miracle to fight back from a 24-point deficit to overcome Bnei Herzliya 104-97 in overtime in BSL action on Monday night.
Eilat looked to be suffering from a hangover from its defeat to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the State Cup final in the first half and entered the break down by 21 points (57-36). The hosts got themselves back into the game with a 16-4 run to start the third period, but still trailed by 13 points (75-62) entering the final 10 minutes.
However, Katash’s team clawed its way back into the game, with Afik Nissim’s free-throws tying the score at 87-87 with 58 seconds to play. Overtime would ensue and Eilat dominated the extra period, with veteran guard Nissim taking his personal tally to a career-high 30 points to lead the southerners to a morale-boosting win.
Nissim scored six three-pointers in his career night, with Kevin Palmer contributing 26 points and 13 rebounds. Yancy Gates and Christian Watford added 18 and 15 points, respectively.
“It is hard to explain what happened here,” said a beaming Katash, whose team improved to 10-8 with its third win in its past four league contests.
“I was really concerned about this game as Herzliya is a lot better than its position in the standings and I knew that we could stumble after the peak we reached last week . We spoke about it before the game but it still happened. We escaped miraculously.”
Dan Grunfeld had 28 points for Herzliya, which fell to 5-13 with its seventh straight defeat, a streak stretching back to mid-December.
Herzliya has just a two-game cushion over last-placed Maccabi Ashdod (3-15), which fell to an 83-69 defeat at Maccabi Rishon Lezion (6-12) on Monday.
Both teams were desperate for the win in what could prove to be a crucial game in the battle against relegation, but Rishon led from start to finish. Ashdod was down by just three points at halftime and was still in the game with 10 minutes to play (55-51). However, it failed to complete a comeback and edged ever closer to the National League.
Davin White led Rishon with 19 points, with Marcus Dove scoring 18 points for Ashdod.
“This was our most important game of the season,” said Rishon coach Tzvika Sherf. “We prepared really well for this game. We are not that much better than Ashdod, which has good players and never gave up. We have opened a small gap from Ashdod with this win, but nothing is over just yet.”