Less than a year after his short stint as coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv ended, Rishon Lezion coach Effi Birenboim had an equally unceremonious showing in his first game against his old team, getting ejected early in the fourth quarter in a 89-62 home defeat.
Pini Gershon's squad maintained the same defensive pressure that it succeeded in applying to CSKA Moscow in Thursday's Euroleague matchup, clogging the paint with its big men while forcing 16 turnovers with their quick hands.
Point guard Andrew Wisniewski led the visitors with 19 points on six of nine shooting, while registering five steals and five assists.
"We played well against CSKA defensively and we did it tonight," Wisniewski said. "But we've got to stay focused offensively." Elsewhere around the league, Barak Netanya defeated Ironi Ashkelon 84-79 in a matchup of undefeateds, Bnei Hasharon held on for a 65-63 victory over Ashkelon, and Ironi Nahariya bested Ironi Ramat Gan 80-76.
In Rishon, Birenboim's boys had a difficult time getting off good shots in the first quarter against Tel Aviv's smothering defense, as the hosts missed their first nine attempts from the field. Rishon went over seven minutes without converting a field goal, until guard Larry O'Bannon hit a three to cut Tel Aviv's lead to 15-5.
Rishon soon found their groove on offense, and was able to stay even with Tel Aviv through the first half thanks to some inspired play by point guard Meir Tapiro, who set up his teammates on a number of occasions.
But most of those situations led to shots from behind the perimeter, as Rishon quickly realized that Gershon's big men ruled the interior.
Stephane Lasme and Yaniv Green in particular gave Rishon's forwards little room to breathe, and Maccabi finished with eight blocks on the night.
Tel Aviv took their foot off the accelerator after opening up the early double-digit lead, eventually settling for threes instead of driving the ball to the basket for much of the second quarter. Rishon got within six with a minute to play in the half, but consistently choked away the opportunities that resulted from Maccabi's questionable shot selection. The visitors took a 44-35 lead into the locker room.
Tel Aviv looked to push the tempo in the third, but couldn't create much more separation on the scoreboard until there were four minutes left in the quarter when they went on a 14-2 run, and led 69-47 at the break.
"[Rishon] did a good job of staying with us in the first half," Wisniewski said. "But we did a good job refocusing and coming out strong at the beginning of the second half."
The game quickly unraveled for Rishon at the beginning of the fourth when Birenboim was ejected for arguing a foul call. After loudly disputing the referees' calls for much of the game, the hosts' coach had to watch a sloppy fourth quarter from the locker room.
The yellow-and-blue proceeded to have their way while their old coach was out of the gym, and pulled away for a decidedly one-sided 27-point victory.
O'Bannon led the hosts with 23 points on 7-13 shooting, but the rest of his team shot only 13-47.
Ten players scored for Gershon, who played his four Israelis for a total of 82 minutes, after receiving some criticism for focusing too much on the foreigners. Forward Guy Pnini scored 15 points on 5-6 shooting, and grabbed six rebounds as well.
The only matchup between undefeated teams on Sunday saw host Barak Netanya edge Hapoel Afula. Afula outscored Netanya 26-16 in the third quarter after it looked like Netanya would pull away after halftime, but Arik Alfassi's squad reasserted themselves to move to 3-0, while Afula now stands at 2-1.
Arik Alfassi's trio of Marco Killingsworth, Tony Washam, and Danilo Pinnock combined for 59 points. Justin Dentmon, the league's third- leading scorer, did his best for the visitors, scoring 21 points and dishing out five assists.
In Herzliya, Bnei Hasharon barely held on to defeat Ironi Ashkelon in a game that was closer than the space between the two teams in the standings.
Center Shawn James had his best game of the season, scoring 20 while grabbing 12 boards to lead the home team. Guard Brian Tolbert came off the bench to lead Ashkelon with 18, and sparked his teammates when it seemed as if Hasharon had the game in hand in the third quarter. But Dan Shamir's boys held off a flurry of shots over the last 10 seconds to improve to 2-1, while Ashkelon fell to 1-2.
The fourth game on Sunday featured two teams at the bottom of the standings, as guard Paul Delaney came off the bench to lead Nahariya to its first win with 17 points. Ramat Gan grabbed 11 more offensive rebounds than did the hosts, but also committed 11 more turnovers.
Sean Daniel and Taj McCullough led Ramat Gan with 18 apiece.