Hapoel Jerusalem guard E.J. Rowland (center).
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem took sole possession of first place in the BSL standings on Sunday night, proving once more that it deserves to be considered the favorite to claim a second straight championship after beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 94-85 at the Jerusalem Arena.
Jerusalem improved to 12-3, one game ahead of Maccabi, after scoring 10 of the final 13 points of the third quarter to establish a six-point (71-65) gap. Maccabi would come no closer until the final buzzer.
Jerusalem forward Donta Smith finished one assist shy of a triple-double, leading his team to the win with 22 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. Lior Eliyahu and Josh Duncan had 16 points and five boards each.
“I’m just happy to play my game,” said Smith. “We came out and fought hard and I’m happy we won the game. We are not worried who is the better team. We just come out to play our game every night.”
Maccabi still holds a 90-19 all-time lead over Jerusalem, but the latter has won seven of their last 10 meetings, including both this season after also triumphing at Yad Eliyahu Arena in October.
Devin Smith had 29 points, including seven three-pointers, for Maccabi, with Sylven Landesberg adding 20 points.
“Our defense was nowhere,” said disappointed Maccabi coach Zan Tabak. “A lot of people are saying to me that we have a problem with scoring but we have no problem with scoring. We have a problem on defense.
“This is something we work a lot on so when you see a performance like this it is even more disappointing. Jerusalem is momentarily better, but I don’t think they are a better team,” added the Croatian coach.
Maccabi Rishon Lezion was within striking distance of the summit just two weeks ago, but it has since lost three of four games, falling to 9-5 on Sunday following an 89-88 defeat at Maccabi Kiryat Gat.
For the second time in four days, Rishon was beaten in the final two seconds, with Alando Tucker securing Kiryat Gat’s 89-88 win by scoring his first free-throw attempt with 1.3 seconds remaining and missing the second on purpose.
Rishon suffered a surprise 73-71 loss to Bnei Herzliya last Thursday, with Stephen Dennis netting the winning basket with 1.6 seconds to play.
Kiryat Gat held a seven-point gap (51-44) at the break, but Rishon dominated the third quarter, opening a double-digit lead (73-63). The visitors still held a 10-point cushion with just over eight minutes to play, but Kiryat Gat would score the next nine points to force a tight finish, in which it would get the better of its opponent.
Paul Delaney had 23 points and seven rebounds for Kiryat Gat, which improved to 4-10 with just its second victory over the last nine games. Tucker added 22 points for Kiryat Gat, which lost American forward Romero Osby for the season with a knee injury last week.
Mark Lyons had 19 points for Rishon.