Maor guides J’lem back to winning ways

Hapoel dominates Ness Ziona after coaching change.

New Hapoel Jerusalem coach Mody Maor (photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
New Hapoel Jerusalem coach Mody Maor
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Mac TA at 6-0 following Ashdod win Mody Maor got life as the coach of Hapoel Jerusalem off to a winning start on Saturday night, while Maccabi Tel Aviv had to once more dig deep to extend its perfect start to the BSL campaign.
Two days after the sacking of coach Fotis Katsikaris, Jerusalem improved to 5-1 in the BSL with a straight-forward 74-59 victory over Ironi Ness Ziona at the Jerusalem Arena. However, Maor’s first real test will come on Wednesday when the team hosts Lietkabelis Panevezys of Lithuania in Eurocup action. Katsikaris lost his job mainly due to the team’s struggles in the Eurocup, with Hapoel at 1-4 at the midway point of the regular season.
The 32-year-old Maor, who was Katsikaris’s top assistant, was surprisingly named as his replacement, being handed his first head coaching job. Maor was also an assistant under coach Simone Pianigiani last season and before that was on the staffs of Tzvika Sherf at Maccabi Ashdod and Lior Lubin at Hapoel Holon.
After hosting Panevezys, Hapoel plays three of its final four Eurocup regular season games on the road, against Buducnost, Bayern Munich and Galatasaray.
Jerusalem hit the ground running on Saturday, outscoring Ness Ziona 24-9 in the first 10 minutes. Hapoel’s margin reached 25 points, and even though it scored just 25 points in the second half, the hosts held on for an important win to move to 5-1.
Jerome Dyson led Jerusalem with 15 points, with Talib Zanna finishing with 21 points and 12 rebounds for Ness Ziona, which fell to 2-4.
“It was very important to get this win with a new coach,” said Dyson. “We had to get this to have him feel comfortable.”
Maor said he had fun on his debut.
“The guys decided that they will play defense tonight and they did that,” he explained. “Clearly we have problems and it is no coincidence that we lost games until now. We have plenty to correct, but this is a good win to build on.”
After holding what seemed to be a comfortable lead, Maccabi Tel Aviv found itself trailing Maccabi Ashdod in the fourth quarter on Saturday. The yellow-and-blue kept its cool, moving to 6-0 with a 90-80 win on the road.
Jake Cohen led five Maccabi players in double figures with 19 points.
John DiBartolomeo had 15 points, with Artsiom Parakhouski adding 14 points and nine rebounds.
Maccabi, which was playing less than 48 hours after the impressive Euroleague win over Real Madrid, was without Norris Cole, Deshaun Thomas and Alex Tyus, who were all being rested ahead of another busy week of continental play. Tel Aviv hosts Efes Istanbul on Tuesday before visiting Khimki Moscow on Thursday.
David Laury had 20 points and eight rebounds for Ashdod, which fell to 2-4.
“They were ready for us and we came without energy,” said Tel Aviv coach Neven Spahija. “Anyway that is no excuse and at least we won the game. We lost a lot of energy, but I’m going to remind some players in my locker room why they are in Maccabi and they have to definitely do better. I didn’t like there energy but it is all under control. The most important thing is to rest and to be ready like any other Euroleague game.”
Despite its short roster, Tel Aviv seemed set to cruise to the win after holding the hosts to 13 points in the first 15 minutes and taking a 13-point lead (26-13). Ashdod would limit the damage until the break though, cutting the deficit to seven points (37-30) and entering the final 10 minutes down by only five points (62-57).
Ashdod completed its comeback (65- 64) early in the fourth quarter, but it would lead for just 18 seconds, with Maccabi regaining its focus.
The yellow-and-blue went on an 11-2 run to reestablish a nine-point advantage (78-69) it wouldn’t lose.
“It was a good team effort,” said Cohen. “It was always going to be tough after a short break and playing on Thursday. I thought we did a good job staying focused for the most part and the most important thing is that we won the game.”