Hapoel Jerusalem sputtered at times, but a pair of big hoops by Horace Jenkins led the team to a hard-fought 78-66 win over Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday night at Malcha in the highlighted game of BSL Matchday 3.
Also Sunday, Elitzur Ashkelon proved that it plans to be a contender by handing Bnei Hasharon its first loss of the season and Hapoel Galil Elyon-Golan snatched its first win of the year by downing Maccabi Givat Shmuel.
With Hapoel Jerusalem president Arkadi Gaydamak on hand for the first time and former great Billy Thompson in attendance, it was Tel Aviv that controlled the game for much of the first half.
Marcus Hatten put in an inspiring performance with 29 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, but was unable to overcome Jerusalem alone.
The home side was led by Jenkins with 23, Roger Mason Jr.'s 22 and Mario Austin, who tallied 16 points and 13 boards.
Jenkins called his play "fair," and said that he tried to make the players around him better. "I'm here to be aggressive and to make plays... I don't want to let these fans down again," he said.
When Gaydamak became the team's president this past summer, he promised a large budget that would help turn the team into one of the top in Europe and title contender in Israel. But after losing its home opener two weeks ago to Ashkelon and struggling before overcoming Maccabi Rishon last week, the pressure is mounting in the capital to provide the type of performances that the sell-out crowd expects.
Jerusalem seemed to have found its stride at the start of the second quarter with playmaker Guy Kantor, who played a total of one minute in the team's first two games, stepping in for Horace Jenkins. The hosts raced 13-3 over five minutes to build a 26-18 lead and seemed on the verge of breaking the game open. However that was followed by four-plus scoreless minutes during which the Tel Avivians answered with 12 in a row to regain the advantage and head into the locker room at halftime leading 33-30.
The hosts pulled away again at the start of the third with a 10-2 spurt, but Hatten, who scored 10 in the period, kept his side in the picture.
Just as it seemed the game was finished, Tel Aviv clawed its way back and got to within one point on a Rodger Farrington three-pointer with 2:56 on the clock.
But 50 seconds later, after Jenkins scored on a move to the basket and then nailed a three, Jerusalem was back on top 70-64 and hung on for the win.
Farrington added 15 for Tel Aviv, while Mushon Ya'akusi had eight.
Thompson, who made history by winning back-to-back college and NBA titles with Louisville and the Lakers, was presented with a framed jersey at halftime. The dominant big man, who is now a preacher in Florida, played for Hapoel in the mid-1990s.
Thompson said of his visit that "it feels like I'm returning home" and added that he hopes to return more frequently in the future.
Elitzur Ashkelon 97, Bnei Hasharon 74
The hosts lost much more than the game when guard Cookie Belcher went down hard in the fourth quarter and was stretchered off. Belcher, who drove to the basket against Adrian Pledger and Vlade Yermishim, came down on his left elbow and was clearly in tremendous pain.
The visitors, who started the season against arguably the two toughest teams in Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv, were in control from start to finish behind another solid showing from center Brandon Kurtz. The big man, whose time on the court was limited by foul trouble, racked up 25 points on 10-for-12 shooting and added seven rebounds.
Pledger shined as well with 24 points, six boards and seven assists. Brian Tolbert added 20 points and six assists followed by Moshe Mizrahi's 16.
Belcher had 23 points and nine rebounds before leaving to lead Bnei Hasharon. Ugonna Onyekwe added 21 and eight.
Hapoel Galil Elyon-Golan 90, Maccabi Givat Shmuel 74
Sasa Bratic led five scorers in double figures with 19 points as Galil improved to 1-1.
Ron Slay scored 26 in defeat.
Also Sunday, Otis Hill and Jayson Wells scored 19 apiece as Ironi Nahariya defeated Ramat Hasharon 95-81.
Matchday 3 will draw to a close Monday night when Maccabi Rishon and Maccabi Tel Aviv meet at Nokia Arena.
Danny Alexander contributed to this report.
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