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Hapoel Eilat ODED KATASH 370.(Photo by: Adi Avishai)
Eilat needs overtime to stave off elimination
Mac Haifa still holds 2-1 series lead; Mac TA sets sights on sweeping away Hap J’lem.
Hapoel Eilat avoided elimination in the most thrilling of fashions on Sunday night, beating Maccabi Haifa 78-75 in overtime to cut its deficit in the BSL semifinals to 2-1.

The game at Romema Arena turned on its head several times, with Haifa seemingly heading to a second straight sweep when it led by 11 points midway through the final quarter.

Eilat was in control when it was ahead by four points with 20 seconds to play in regulation, but Haifa forced overtime, only for the southerners to end the game with a 7-0 surge to clinch the win.

“This is massive. We owed our fans after the first two games,” said Eilat coach Oded Katash. “I want to believe that this victory will give us the push we need to win the series.”

Larry O’Bannon had 23 points for Eilat, with Scotty Hopson scoring 21 for Katash’s side, which hosts Game 4 of the best-of-five series on Wednesday.

Donta Smith led Haifa with 26 points.

Haifa got off to a quick start for the third straight game, scoring eight of the first 10 points of the night.

However, unlike the first two encounters of the series, Eilat kept Haifa within arm’s reach and was down by just three points (18-15) after 10 minutes.

After being cut from the roster for Game 2 by coach Katash, Hopson returned to be the focal point of Eilat’s offense once more on Sunday, giving the southerners their first lead of the night (22-20) early in the second period.

Eilat would go on to lead by as many as six points (28-22), but it was Haifa which had the edge at the break (36-33).

Both teams struggled desperately on offense in the third frame, with each scoring seven points in the first seven minutes of the quarter.

The game was still up for grabs with 10 minutes to play with the hosts leading by just four points (49-45). However, Eilat’s inability to score against Haifa’s stifling defense at the start of the final period seemed to hand the Greens the win.

A Cory Carr basket took Haifa’s margin to 11 points (59-48) and the hosts looked to be cruising with just five minutes to play.

However, Brad Greenberg’s players made the mistake of playing as if they had already won the game and Eilat consistently ate away at the gap.

A Hopson three-point play followed by an O’Bannon triple capped a 19-4 run which gave Eilat what should have been an unassailable four-point advantage with just 20 seconds remaining.

However, after scoring two points from the line, Paul Stoll stole the ball and set up Pat Calathes for an easy dunk to tie the score at 69-69 and send the game to overtime.

Haifa led for much of the extra period as well, but another O’Bannon three tied the score (75-75) yet again and Eilat would score the final seven points of the night to clinch a scintillating win.

On Monday, Maccabi Tel Aviv can wrap up its series against Hapoel Jerusalem when it hosts Game 3 at Nokia Arena.

Jerusalem was no competition for the yellow-and-blue in the first two games of the series, with Maccabi winning by 18 points in the series opener and holding the lead throughout its 74-68 road win in Game 2 last Thursday.

“The series isn’t over yet,” said Maccabi Tel Aviv leading scorer in the series Lior Eliyahu. “The only thing on our mind is to win another championship.”
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