Maccabi Tel Aviv downs Hapoel Haifa in Winner Cup

Holon edges Gilboa/Galil to set up final four that also includes Maccabi Rishon Lezion and Hapoel Jerusalem

MACCABI TEL AVIV forward Oz Blayzer (left) scored a team-high 19 points in the team’s 83-74 Winner Cup victory over Hapoel Haifa. (photo credit: SEFI MAGRISO/MACCABI TEL AVIV)
MACCABI TEL AVIV forward Oz Blayzer (left) scored a team-high 19 points in the team’s 83-74 Winner Cup victory over Hapoel Haifa.
Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Hapoel Haifa 83-74 on Monday night to advance to the Winner Cup semifinals, where Maccabi Rishon Lezion will be waiting.
The yellow-and-blue led the game wire-to-wire in a convincing win that saw Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s team play its first domestic game of the season. The clash allowed a number of Maccabi players, including Eidan Alber, Dori Sahar and Max Heidegger, the chance to get in some playing time due to the club only having featured in Euroleague games thus far.
Oz Blayzer was the star of the show in scoring 19 points, pulling down eight rebounds and adding four assists, Othello Hunter scored 16 points while Ante Zizic chipped in the 15 points in the win. Jason Siggers led Haifa with 19 points, while Keenan Evans and Egor Nestrenko each added 15 points in the defeat.
“I’m very happy the basketball is back,” said a smiling Blayzer. “I’m happy that we won and we played with a lot of energy even though we have some injuries. I feel good as to where I am and the coaching staff gives me a lot of confidence. I’m working on improving all of my basketball skills and aspects.”
Blayzer started the game off with a bang for Maccabi by hitting a three-pointer while Zizic added points early on as well as Siggers found the bottom of the basket from deep. An active Blayzer scored a layup, Chris Jones hit a jumper while Dragan Bender and Blayzer hit from deep, but Ziv Ben Tzvi and Nestrenko scored to keep the game close, with Maccabi up 23-17 after 10 minutes.
Jones and Hunter got things rolling for the yellow-and-blue to begin the second quarter, but points by Karam Mashour and Siggers kept the score at 29-23 Maccabi with seven minutes remaining in the first half.
Hunter continued to find the basket in the paint, while Sahar and Alber – who made his Maccabi debut – also scored, but once again Siggers and Nestrenko kept Haifa hanging around down 37-31 with 3:50 to go in the second quarter.
Scottie Wilbkein got into the act as his triple beat the shot clock and Jones fed Sandy Cohen for an alley-oop, but the Elad Hasin’s team saw Amit Simhon drill a three-pointer to cut the Maccabi lead to 47-39 at the break.
Blayzer and Zizic scored for Sfairopoulos’s squad to begin the second half, but Siggers, Evans and Simhon kept Haifa down by only four points (54-50) midway through the third quarter. However, Jones sliced to the basket on the baseline while Blayzer and Bender drilled back to back triples and Hunter put in a dunk to bump the lead up to 68-55 after thirty minutes.
Heidegger made his yellow-and-blue debut to start the fourth quarter after the UC-Santa Barbara guard signed with Maccabi in the offseason.
Hunter scored inside while Blayzer and Zizic added points to cancel out baskets by Lenard Freeman and Evans as the yellow-and-blue stayed in front 75-61 with 4:43 remaining in regulation. Zizic and Siggers traded buckets, Jones hit an efficient jumper in the lane and Zizic put the finishing touches on the nine-point victory.
 Meanwhile, Hapoel Holon squeaked by Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 88-87 in a quarterfinal thriller at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv.
The Galilee team led most of the way, but untimely fouls by Iftach Ziv and key free-throw shooting down the stretch by CJ Harris gave Stefanos Dedas’s squad the victory. Holon will now face Hapoel Jerusalem in the semifinals in the preseason competition on Saturday night.
Harris led the way for Holon with 21 points, Tyrus McGee scored 17 points with 15 coming in the second half, Chris Johnson added 14 points and Isaiah Miles chipped in with 13 points in the win.
Ziv scored 23 points for Gilboa, Isaiah Cousins added 18 points, Jehyve Floyd scored 14 points and Kerry Blackshear chipped in with 13 points for Lior Lubin’s team in the loss.
“We stayed together and we played hard on defense in what was a very physical game,” explained Harris following the win. “When it’s games like this we just want to stay together and keep fighting and at the end we were able to get ahead.”
Gilboa Galil got off to a good start as Ziv scored early and often for the Galilee squad while Harris, Johnson and Miles went from deep for Holon, however Blackshear, Floyd and Isaiah Cousins found the basket for Gilboa as they took a 30-18 lead after the opening frame.
Willy Workman drained a triple to open the second quarter while Miles and Guy Pnini followed up for Holon but Joe Thomasson and Yotam Hanochi scored points as well to keep Lior Lubin’s Gilboa in front 37-32 midway through the frame. Floyd hit his free throws at one end and blocked a shot at the other side and Ziv drilled a triple, but Harris split the defense for a basket and scored a triple of his own while Miles did as well.
Cousins continued scoring with circus-act layups and Blackshear scored inside as Gilboa held on to a 53-47 advantage at halftime.
Johnson hit a pair of three-pointers for Holon, but Blackshear and Floyd got to work down low as Gilboa stayed in front 62-58 with 5:08 remaining in the third quarter.
Johnson hit a corner three and put in a pair of free throws while McGee began to score as well, but Ziv drilled one of his own at the buzzer as Gilboa/Galil went into the final frame ahead 74-70.
Willy Workman cut the advantage to begin the fourth quarter and a Guy Pnini triple put Holon in front as McGee extended the lead to 79-76 with 5:17 left in regulation.
Floyd slammed the ball home and then scored free throws while Ziv hit a floater that kissed off the backboard as Gilboa retook the lead 82-81 with 2:24 to go.
Cousins made a jumper and then went from downtown to go up 87-85, but a Ziv unsportsmanlike foul sent Harris to the line and he knotted the score up at 87 and then scored another one from the charity stripe on additional foul to give Holon the narrow and exciting conquest.