Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv reach Basketball State Cup final

Reds prevailed over Hapoel Haifa in the semis • Yellow-and-blue proved too much for Ness Ziona

 ITAY SEGEV (left picture, 6) and Hapoel Jerusalem overcame Hapoel Haifa 77-73 in their State Cup semifinal. (photo credit: Liron Moldovan)
ITAY SEGEV (left picture, 6) and Hapoel Jerusalem overcame Hapoel Haifa 77-73 in their State Cup semifinal.
(photo credit: Liron Moldovan)

The State Cup basketball final will feature the latest edition of the Israeli Classico as Hapoel Jerusalem will take on Maccabi Tel Aviv in the one-game, winner-take-all final on Thursday night in the capital city.

The Reds punched their ticket to the championship game with a tight 77-73 win over Hapoel Haifa on Tuesday night while the yellow-and-blue eased into the title contest with an 85-73 victory over Ironi Ness Ziona.

The Reds completed a comeback

Hapoel Haifa controlled the opening game from the get-go as Anthony Hickey and new recruit Justin Tillman proved to be unstoppable early on. However, Speedy Smith and Zach Hankins scored for Hapoel Jerusalem, which headed into halftime down by just a point (41-40).

Amit Simhon and Will Rayman got busy in the third quarter and helped Sharon Drucker’s northern team to a 61-53 lead after 30 minutes, but Hankins, Levi Randolph and Noam Yaacov hit six critical free-throws down the stretch to help Jerusalem complete the comeback and send Aleksandar Dzikic’s squad into the final.

Hankins led the way with 23 points and 10 rebounds, Randolph added 14 points, Smith scored 13 points and Yaacov chipped in with 11 points in the win. Hickey scored 22 points, Simhon put in 16 points and Tillman added 12 points in his Haifa debut.

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Lorenzo Brown led the yellow-and-blue to a 85-73 conquest of Ness Ziona. (credit: DANNY MARON)Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Lorenzo Brown led the yellow-and-blue to a 85-73 conquest of Ness Ziona. (credit: DANNY MARON)

“Congrats to Haifa and I believe they played well,” Dzikic said in crediting a tough opponent. “Their results lately don’t count in this type of game as this was one for their season. If they would have beaten us, I couldn’t say they didn’t deserve it. We let them score 26 points to start the game and they opened the game perfectly. I didn’t like our intensity and focus.”

“I have still have to digest the game,” Drucker began. “We played hard from the beginning to the end and we controlled the game both offensively and defensively. But we lost some players to foul trouble and Kadeem Allen took a hit. The guys left it all on the court.”

The game’s MVP, Hankins, also reflected on the win.

We came out lackluster and that has to stop. Our bread and butter is our defense and we have to get better at that. We have to be better, but it’s awesome that we won and we know that we can be happy about that.”

Hickey, Haifa’s point guard, spoke about the game.

“Give Jerusalem credit – they came out and played their butts off. We didn’t get rebounds on the last few possessions and we lost our big men to fouls.”

Tel Aviv overcame a tough start

In the other semifinal, Maccabi Tel Aviv overcame a rough start to down Ness Ziona as Lorenzo Brown returned to action after a short period out injured.

Brown, who signed a three-year extension with the yellow-and-blue just last week, paced Oded Katash’s squad from the start as the point guard distributed the ball with ease and scored at will to help the club punch its ticket to the title game, slated for Thursday night at the Jerusalem Arena.

Ness Ziona began the game on a positive note as Tyler Bey and Shaq Buchanan controlled the pace of play from the outset to take an early first-quarter lead.

But Brown began to get back into the swing of things and he along with big man Josh Nebo were able to give Maccabi a 42-36 advantage at halftime.

Bonzie Colson began to score in the third quarter as the Notre Dame product, along with Brown and Nebo, kept finding the bottom of the basket to go up by 16-points after 30 minutes.

Bey, Jerome Meyinsee and DJ Cooper tried to pull Ness Ziona back into the game in the fourth quarter, but Jarell Martin, Nebo and Brown made sure there would be no comeback as Maccabi secured the spot in the final.

Brown ended the game with 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds, Nebo scored 16 points and added 11 boards while Colson scored 13 points in the win. Cooper paced Nes Ziona with 16 points and 12 assists, Bey added 15 points and Meyinsee chipped in with 13 points in the loss.

“We played well for a good amount of the game and we spoke about just playing calmly and with patience,” Katash said. “We controlled the rebounds and we did what we needed to. I missed having seen Lorenzo and Wade [Baldwin] playing together, we waited for some time to get Lorenzo back onto the court.”

“The game went ok and the first half we were able to play our game,” Ness Ziona coach Elad Hasin began. “But Maccabi can punish you when you turn the ball over. We did our best and we were able to get to the semifinals but we weren’t good enough to beat Maccabi Tel Aviv. Our fans came out with great support and we really appreciate that.”

Nebo also spoke about the game.

“It was a very tough game and both teams competed hard. We started the game flat and we didn’t have the energy we needed, but at the end of the day I’m very happy that we got the win. I missed [Brown] and playing with Zo makes the game a lot easier for me. I’m happy to have him back.”

Meyinsee also reflected on the contest.

“We tried to follow our game plan and slow the game down. We know that Maccabi is a great team and we tried to stop their fast break and control the boards and get to the line. But we still came up short.”

League games

There were also a trio of Israeli league games as Joe Ragland had the hot hand in the fourth quarter to help Hapoel Holon put away Hapoel Galil Elyon 83-73.

Guy Goodes’s squad jumped out to an early 20-point lead as Chris Johnson led the way, but Bryce Washington, Wayne Langston and Itay Moskovits cut down the advantage to just three points 60-57 by the middle of the final frame. However, Dawson drained a triple and Ragland went off for 13 points to close out the game and hand the hosts the win.

Ragland led all scorers with 25 points, Johnson added 19 points and Dawson chipped in with 13 points in the win. Deishuan Booker paced Galil with 19 points, Washington added 14 points and Langston scored 12 points in the loss.

“We started well and we showed a lot of character to come back and win a game against a team that has been on a good roll,” noted Goodes. “We all want to win, but we lost some tough games recently and they were due to some of the small things, rebounds and the like but we need to learn from that and move on. We had a lot of games the past month plus including flights, but now we have a bit of a break and will do what we need to do against Jerusalem on the road.”

“We haven’t played well at this arena,” Galil Elyon coach Barak Peleg said. “Holon is a team that plays in two competitions and they know how to handle these types of situations even when they are coming back from a rough game. All in all, we are a young team and we will learn how to deal with these types of games down the road.”

Ragland also looked back at the game.

“I just wanted to be aggressive in that moment, make sure I got the best shot for my team if it’s me or my teammates. Give credit to them as they have always been a good team since they have been in the first division and they had a five-game winning streak. They were going to have moments when they were going to fight back and make it a game, but I’m glad we won the game.”

Moskovits also looked back at the game from his point of view.

“We came back into the game and we had the momentum, but they really controlled the game for the most part with Ragland and Johnson and when that is the case, it’s not so much in your hands.”

Meanwhile, Hapoel Tel Aviv got by pesky Kiryat Ata 90-84 as Bar Timor helped the Reds cut down a 15-point halftime deficit to chalk up the win in front of their fans at the Drive-In Arena.

The visitors from Kiryat Ata came out flying in the first half as Karam Mashour and Yotam Hanochi paced Sharon Avrahami’s squad to a 52-37 advantage after 20 minutes of action. However, Timor along with JP Tokoto and Tomer Ginat helped pull Danny Franco’s team in front as time ticked down to take the victory.

Timor led the Reds with 23 points, while Ginat and Tokoto each scored 13 points in the win. Mashour scored 23 points as Yotam Hanochi added 16 points and Juvonte Reddic added 11 points in the loss.

“I think the game was more mental than anything else,” Franco said. “I am happy that at halftime we are able to make the changes that we needed. It was a game that we had to get by, win and move on. We were better in the second half and we played at a good pace.”

“We are playing together as a team,” Avrahami said. “Against all of the big teams we have played well, whether it’s Jerusalem or Maccabi, and that is what also makes these losses frustrating. But it comes down to the small things and while we have a short squad, that can be an issue as well.”

By the Red Sea, Bnei Herzliya used a big second half to sink Hapoel Eilat 91-81 as Julian Gamble, Maurice Kemp and Oded Brandwein spurred the visitors to the win down south.

DJ Funderburk paced the hosts to an early 43-40 lead at halftime, but Oren Aharoni’s squad came roaring back in the third quarter. Gamble filled the bucket in the paint, Kemp scored at will while their defensive prowess proved formidable to take the frame 25-10 and help Herzliya to the win.

Gamble led the way with 23 points and 11 rebounds, Kemp checked in with 13 points and 14 boards as Brandwein and Hooker each scored 13 points in the win. Funderburk paced the hosts with 26 points and Amit Gershon added 15 points in the loss.

“I have to give credit to the players for really playing well on defense,” Aharoni said. “Eilat is a good team with some excellent players who can score some big baskets. But we were able to even up the game with our defense. This was a very good win in a tough arena.”

“Too many turnovers in crucial moments and missing box outs,” Eilat coach Maurizio Buscaglia said. “We need some more ball sharing and we need to improve. We struggled to keep the flow and the third quarter was really bad. We will keep practicing.”

Bradnwein also looked back on the game.

“This was a very important win for us against an Eilat team that is fighting for its life. We defended well and made some big stops. We want to get into the playoffs and see where we will go by taking it one game at a time. We have to be modest and work hard.”