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Despite a strong performance on Thursday and some help in Italy that saw Maccabi Tel Aviv finish the Euroleague Top 16 in first place in Group E, there is no letting up around the two-time defending champs.
"This job is complete, but we still have work to do," Will Solomon told reporters at Ben-Gurion Airport on Friday after Maccabi returned from an 88-66 win over Turkish league leader Ulker in Istanbul.
The win, combined with Climamio Bologna's 66-61 victory over Real Madrid, saw the yellow-and-blue overtake the Spanish champs for first place, setting up a best-of-three quarterfinal series against Olympiacos Piraeus of Greece. The first game is Tuesday at Nokia Arena, with game two at the Peace and Friendship Arena in Athens scheduled for Thursday.
Maceo Baston was the hero on Thursday, stepping up with a big performance on a night when Solomon was off and Nikola Vujcic was hurting.
Baston came through with a game-high 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting, seven rebounds and two blocks, which helped him earn co-MVP of the week honors for the second time in the Top 16.
Baston had 20 points, eight rebounds and two blocks against Real Madrid to share the honors with Efes Pilsen players Nikola Prkacin and Antonio Granger two weeks ago. This time it was another Efes star, Henry Domercant, who matched Baston's performance.
The Euroleague selects its weekly MVP based on a statistical index that gives players points for points scored, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots and fouls drawn, and subtracts points for missed shots, turnovers, and fouls committed.
Baston needed to step up with Vujcic sitting with a stiff back. After resting over the weekend, the Croatian center is expected to practice on Sunday and play on Tuesday.
Sharon Shason took advantage of extra playing time in Vujcic's absence and finished with 14 points on perfect shooting. Anthony Parker also scored 14.
Solomon, who has been in a slump lately, had his worst shooting night in a Maccabi uniform and scored just five points, although he did excel on the playmaking side with eight assists.
"It happens in basketball," he said. "[I shot] 1-of-10, [and] we won by 22. It's the team effort that matters."
There is no concern among the coaching staff over Solomon's recent play. "We think that in the clutch, he's a winner," assistant coach Dan Shamir said.
Maccabi benefits from a bye week in BSL action and can focus solely on the Greek task at hand.
Hapoel Tel Aviv 88,Maccabi Rishon 73
Hapoel Tel Aviv led from start to finish on Saturday night at Nokia Arena to send third-place Maccabi Rishon to its second straight defeat.
JeRon Roberts scored the game's first five points and Hapoel never looked back as the reds improved to 9-10. Rishon, which was upset at home last week by Elitzur Ashkelon, slipped to 11-7.
Roberts led all scorers with a season-high 31. Rodger Farrington added 15 points, 12 rebounds and four steals and Herve Lamizana and Marcus Hatten chipped in 14 apiece.
Omar Sneed had 19 and Ryan Sydney 14 in defeat.
In Sunday's feature game, Hapoel Jerusalem (13-3) will return to action for the first time since losing to Dynamo Moscow in the ULEB Cup semifinal to host struggling Bnei Hasharon (8-10). Ya'acov Zeno's side was crushed by Ramat Hasahron 111-80 last week and then released Adam Harrington (16.2 ppg) for disciplinary issues.
In other Sunday games, Ironi Nahariya's (10-7) Avi Sukar and Cory Carr host their former team, Ashkelon (8-9); Maccabi Givat Shmuel (2-15) will look to save its season before it's too late when it travels to Ironi Ramat Gan (5-12); while the other team in the heat of the relegation battle, Ramat Hasharon (5-12), hosts Hapoel Galil Elyon Golan (8-9).
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