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A furious comeback by Hapoel Tel Aviv, led by Marcus Hatten, who scored 18 points in the second half and 12 in the fourth quarter, changed what looked like a laugher at Malcha into an 89-79 victory for Hapoel Jerusalem in the first leg of a State Cup quarterfinal Thursday night.
The contest almost didn't happen, as hours before tipoff, referees were threatening not to show up in protest over Jerusalem coach Erez Edelstein's remarks about the officiating at Monday night's game vs Maccabi Tel Aviv. In the end, league officials prevailed on the refs to show up.
Before the game, Jerusalem fans gave out placards reading "Bo notzi et hagizan(ut) me'hakadursal" (Let's kick the racist [racism] out of basketball), a reference to remarks made earlier in the week by Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Pini Gershon in which he said he felt like he was in a "Moslem country" when playing at Malcha or at Hapoel Tel Aviv's Ussishkin Arena.
With Doron Sheffer looking on in street clothes after rejoining coach Effi Birenboim's team, Sheffer's former team rolled to a 73-53 lead after three quarters, thanks to Roger Mason Jr., who scored 14 of his 23 points in the third period, when Jerusalem's offense was rolling. Big contributions from reserve forwards Erez Marcovich and Izik Ohanon and great defense by Matan Naor also helped Jerusalem.
But all that went right went wrong in the fourth quarter for the capital city hoopsters, as a series of turnovers and bad shot selection helped Tel Aviv climb right back in and narrow the margin of victory to one it may be overcome in the second leg two weeks from now in Tel Aviv.
Hatten (25 points on the night) was the key, driving or hitting outside shots to haul his club off the canvas.
Some late minute fighting between Jerusalem's Tamar Slay and Hapoel's Gili Mossinson made things even tighter as Tel Aviv closed to 86-79 before Horace Jenkins hit three late foul shots to earn the 10-point victory.
Maccabi Petah Tikva 78,Hapoel Galil Elyon-Golan 64
The surprise of the evening came from Petah Tikva, where second league Maccabi Petah Tikva had a comfortable win against Hapoel Galil Elyon-Golan.
Galil-Golan was the firm favorite to not only beat Petah Tikva, but to win by a margin that would secure its place in the semifinals.
The northern team will now need to be at their best in two weeks if they are to overcome the 14-point deficit.
Petah Tikva wasn't intimidated by its opponents and kept the game close in the first quarter, which ended 37-34 in favor of Galil-Golan.
The hosts managed to take a four-point lead at the end of the third period and then went on a 10-2 run to begin the fourth quarter.
The second division side prevented any Galil-Golan comeback and will carry the sizable advantage into the second leg.
Maccabi Tel Aviv 98, Maccabi Rishon Lezion 92
Maccabi Rishon stayed with Maccabi Tel Aviv for three quarters, but a fourth quarter run by the BSL leader was too much for the hosts.
Maccabi Rishon had a narrow two-point advantage at the half and neither team gained the upper hand until Tel Aviv broke through in the final period on the way to a 10-point lead.
Maccabi Rishon reduced the gap before the end of the game, but Tel Aviv will be pleased with its six-point win and will feel confident of progressing to the semifinals.
Bnei Hasharon 96, Ironi Ramat Gan 84
Bnei Hasharon took a big step towards the next stage of the State Cup after beating Ironi Ramat Gan by 12 points.
Bnei Hasharon, which took an early lead that it never gave up, was ahead by eight at the half.
Ironi Ramat Gan finds itself with its back against the wall and will need a great performance at Herzliya in two weeks in order to advance.