Basketball: Maccabi Tel Aviv aiming to bounce back in BSL
Maccabi will not have it easy in the Eurocup Last 32, being placed in a group with Russian teams Unics Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod, as well as Olimpija Ljubljana of Slovenia.
By ALLON SINAI
After seeing its Euroleague campaign end in dejection on Thursday night, Maccabi Tel Aviv will begin picking up the pieces when it visits Maccabi Kiryat Gat in BSL action on Sunday night.Maccabi needed to beat Darussafaka by at least 11 points in Istanbul on Thursday in order to leapfrog the Turks and advance to the Euroleague Top 16. However, it could only manage a 70-66 win, meaning that for the first time in 22 years it will not be among the last 16 in European basketball’s premier club competition.Maccabi embarrassingly tried to force overtime by intentionally missing free throws and turning the ball over in the final minute, but it was to no avail and only added another humbling episode to a bitter season.“When you reach a situation that you need to win your last game on the road by 11 points that is very tough,” said club chairman Shimon Mizrahi.“We led by as many as six points, but couldn’t take it any further. In the end we realized that only overtime can save us, and as long as the laws of the game allow it, what we did was legitimate. The reality is that we will now play in the Eurocup and we will try and go as far as possible.”Maccabi will not have it easy in the Last 32, being placed in a group with Russian teams Unics Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod, as well as Olimpija Ljubljana of Slovenia.The Last 32 will begin in the first week of January and run until February 10, with the top two teams in each group to advance to the round of 16.Maccabi’s early exit also has serious financial ramifications for the club, costing it an estimated NIS 11 million.“We are very disappointed,” said captain Guy Pnini. “We made our main mistakes at the start of the season and not against Darussafaka. We will not drop our heads as there is still half a season to play and many challenges ahead in the BSL, State Cup and Eurocup.”Maccabi coach Zan Tabak said he regretted his team’s tactics in the final minute and Pnini also wasn’t proud of the side’s desperate actions. “We understood that the only way we could reach the required margin was through overtime so we did what we did,” he explained. “We didn’t want to reach that situation, but we had no other choice.”Maccabi has an 8-3 record in the BSL, one game back of leader Hapoel Jerusalem (9-2), which visits Maccabi Ashdod (5-6) on Sunday.Jerusalem, which has won five straight league games, will face Gran Canaria of Spain, Saratov of Russia and Strasbourg of France in the Eurocup Last 32.Also Sunday, Maccabi Rishon Lezion (8-2) visits Hapoel Eilat (4-7).Hapoel Tel Aviv (4-7) hosts Ironi Ness Ziona (3-8) on Monday.On Saturday, Bnei Herzliya won for the seventh time in nine game, bouncing back from last week’s defeat to Hapoel Jerusalem with a 75-68 victory over Hapoel Holon to improve to 7-5. James Singleton had 23 points for Herzliya, with Will Clyburn scoring 30 points for Holon, which fell to 3-8, losing for the third time in four games under new coach Dan Shamir.Maccabi Haifa also moved to 7-5, beating Ironi Nahariya 80-61 on the road. Will Graves had 24 points and nine rebounds for Haifa, with Michael Umeh netting 15 points for Nahariya, which dropped to 6-6.
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