Jerusalem tops Rishon in Balkan League

With local competition locked down due to COVID-19, Israeli clubs keep in form on international courts.

HAPOEL JERUSALEM guard Tarik Philip drives to the hoop during the Reds’ 103-96 overtime victory of Maccabi Rishon Lezion in Balkan League action (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
HAPOEL JERUSALEM guard Tarik Philip drives to the hoop during the Reds’ 103-96 overtime victory of Maccabi Rishon Lezion in Balkan League action
Twelve Israel Basketball League teams entered the Balkan League competition in order to keep in shape as the government halted the local league during the coronavirus lockdown to stem the spread of the pandemic.
The idea behind joining the European competition, which had been won twice by Hapoel Gilboa/Galil back in 2012 and 2013, was to circumvent the Knesset’s decision to halt all sporting activities except for those in international tournaments.
Maccabi Tel Aviv, which takes part in the Euroleague, didn’t need to stop its practice sessions or games during the lockdown, so by following suit the other dozen teams in the domestic league joined the Balkan League and continued business as usual.
In the first round of games, Hapoel Jerusalem defeated Maccabi Rishon Lezion 103-96 in an up-tempo battle that was decided in overtime.
Rishon came out strong and led most of the way thanks to terrific showings by Golan Gutt, Isaiah Taylor, Akil Mitchell and Darryl Monroe. But a strong second half and extra session by the Reds who were led by Malcolm Hill, Tarik Phillip, TaShawn Thomas, Chris Kramer and Tamir Blatt helped Oded Katash’s crew to the win.
Hill was the Reds’ high scorer with 22 points, Phillip added 21 points, Thomas clocked in with 15 points and 13 rebounds for a double-double, while newcomer Chris Kramer chipped in with 12 points in the win.
Isaiah Taylor led all scorers with 27 points, Gutt had a super night with 21 points while Mitchell had a monster double-double with 18 points and 19 rebounds for Guy Goodes’s team.
Mitchell with 10 points dominated the first quarter for Rishon Lezion while Taylor added eight points as the hosts grabbed a 28-20 lead after 10 minutes.
Jerusalem’s defense got to work in the second frame and its offense picked up thanks to Thomas and Suleiman Braimoh as they closed the gap to 39-35 by halftime.
Gutt, Darryl Monroe and Taylor found the basket for Rishon in the third quarter, but Tarik Phillip got busy for Jerusalem as Adam Ariel hit a triple against his former club to knot up the score at 63-63 after 30 minutes of play.
Taylor for Rishon and Hill for the Reds traded baskets, but Gutt continued to find the bottom of the bucket to give Rishon a 83-76 lead midway through the fourth quarter. However, Thomas scored a layup and Hill hit a triple to send the game into overtime.
Phillip and Blatt drilled home three-pointers, Kramer scored a layup and Hill hit another triple as Jerusalem rolled over Rishon in the extra session for the seven-point conquest.
Meanwhile, Bnei Herzliya downed Hapoel Haifa 90-71 in a battle of the Israeli League newcomers in their Balkan League debuts.
Sharon Drucker’s Herzliya jumped out to a 32-10 lead after the first quarter and cruised to the 19-point victory.
Frank Gaines scored 23 points, Coty Clarke added 21 points and Isaiah Eisendorf chipped in with 13 points in the win. Jason Siggers led Haifa with 19 points and Lenard Freeman added 13 points in the loss.
The star of the show, Gaines, was all smiles after the game.
“Great team win. We shared the ball a lot and played to our strengths. We still have to continue to build and be better every day and build off of this win.”
Elsewhere, Hapoel Holon defeated Ironi Ness Ziona 94-73 in a game that was never in doubt as Stefanos Dedas’s squad recorded a convincing win.
Isaiah Miles and CJ Harris each scored 16 points while Tyrus McGee and Chris Johnson each dropped 15 points in the win. Patrick Miller and Jordan Murphy each scored 17 points in the loss.
“We played with amazing tempo!” exclaimed an excited Miles following the win. “And did a great job sharing the ball and getting everyone involved! This is a great team and even though it’s the first game, we showed that this is going to be a fun season.”
Also, Hapoel Gilboa/Galil dropped Maccabi Haifa 92-81 in Gan Ner as the former two-time Balkan League champion opened the new campaign with a victory.
Big man Kerry Blackshear and guard Joe Thomasson each scored 16 points while Iftach Ziv added 14 points and Isaiah Cousins scored 12 points in the win.
Chris Dowe was the Haifa high scorer with 23 points, Le’Bryan Nash added 22 points and Roman Sorkin scored 16 points in the defeat.
“It was a fun and exciting game,” said Thomasson after the win. “I think we have a lot of learning to do in executing our things the right way, but it felt really good to be back on the court and I look forward to the rest of the season.”