Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Dragan Bender.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Maccabi Tel Aviv looks to stamp is unbeated preseason on Sunday evening when it faces Olimpia Milano for the second time in four days, this time at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The yellow-and-blue improved to 8-0 this summer with an 85-79 win over Milano at the United Center in Chicago on Thursday night, squandering an early 18-point lead before regaining control in the final quarter.
Trevor Mbakwe scored eight first-quarter points as Maccabi stormed out to a 29-11 lead after 10 minutes. Milano closed to within six points (46-40) by the break before taking its first lead in the third frame, with Stanko Barac scoring six points in a 9-0 run that opened a five-point gap (60-55).
The score was tied entering the fourth quarter (63-63), but Maccabi pulled ahead at the decisive moment to claim another confidence- boosting win ahead of the start of the new season.
Maccabi opens its BSL campaign against newly-promoted Maccabi Kiryat Gat on Saturday, October 10, before visiting CSKA Moscow in its Euroleague opener five days later.
Mbakwe and Brian Randle led Maccabi with 15 points apiece on Thursday.
Sylven Landesberg added 12, Vitor Faverani 11 and Dragan Bender scored 10, while Jordan Farmar finished with seven points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
During the game, Milan honored former players Kenny Barlow, Mason Rocca and Kiwane Garris in a brief on court ceremony and Maccabi did the same for three of its former stars with Illinois ties, Tal Brody, Anthony Parker and Deon Thomas.
Maccabi underwent a complete overhaul during the summer, with only five players coming back for another campaign (Yogev Ohayon, Devin Smith, Landesberg, Guy Pnini and Randle).
The club brought in five new names, Farmer, Taylor Rochestie, Mbakwe, Dagan Yivzori and former Boston Celtics center Faverani, but it was 17-year-old Croatian Bender who garnered the most attention in Chicago and is expected to do the same in New York. Bender, who is projected to be a top-five pick in next year’s NBA draft, spent last season on loan at Ironi Ramat Gan.
“Bender flashed a little of everything tonight. He can guard. He can move. He can shoot. And he’s not afraid of the physicality or the moment,” tweeted ESPN.com senior NBA writer, Marc Stein.
“Dragan Bender, folks, is the realest of deals.”