Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Gal Mekel.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Even in what is widely acknowledged as the club’s worst season ever, Maccabi Tel Aviv has managed to get the job done in the State Cup.
Maccabi advanced to the cup final for a seventh straight year on Monday night, beating Ironi Ness Ziona 81-66 to set up a meeting with Maccabi Ashdod and former coach Tzvika Sherf in Thursday’s final at Yad Eliyahu Arena.
The yellow-and-blue extended its winning streak in the competition, with its last cup defeat coming in December 2008 when it was stunned by Ironi Nahariya in the round of 16.
Maccabi was on course for an early cup exit this season, trailing by 14 points with seven minutes to play in its quarterfinal against Maccabi Haifa.
However, it ended that night with a 19-2 run and clinched its progress with a dramatic 73-70 victory thanks to Taylor Rochestie’s three-pointer with 0.4 seconds to play.
It also struggled for large periods on Monday, trailing by four points at the break (42-38). But it ultimately pulled ahead in the second half, building a double-digit margin (59-49) by the end of the third quarter and remaining in control until the final buzzer.
Gal Mekel led Maccabi with 22 points and seven assists, with Yogev Ohayon and Rochestie scoring 16 and 15 points, respectively.
Sundiata Gaines had 16 points for Ness Ziona.
“I’m glad especially because of the mental aspect of this game,” said Maccabi coach Zan Tabak. “I’m glad that our players responded well. I really trust the players we have and know they give everything.”
Maccabi entered the semis on the back of yet another dejecting failure, losing six of its previous nine games over all competitions, including its past three.
A defeat in Slovenia against Olimpija Ljubljana was followed by a 35-point drubbing at the hands of Maccabi Haifa in the BSL, its heaviest ever loss in local action. Four days later it was beaten 95-84 in overtime by Nizhny Novgorod in a do-or-die showdown at Yad Eliyahu that ended the team’s Eurocup campaign.
It finally returned to winning ways on Monday and will be targeting a 43rd cup in club history against Ashdod, which will be taking part in the final for the first time.
Ashdod beat Maccabi in both their BSL meetings this season, including just last month.
“We’ll watch the games we lost to them and I believe the final will be a similar game to the semis,” said Tabak.
Ashdod beat Maccabi Rishon Lezion 84-82 in double- overtime in the first semi on Monday. Ashdod coach Sherf has six cup triumphs on his resume from his time as Maccabi Tel Aviv’s head coach, the last of which coming in 1991.