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Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Sonny Weems (right) contributed 12 points, six assists and five rebounds, as well as excellent defense on Vassilis Spanoulis, in last night’s 80-73 win against Olympiacos and Kostas Papanikolaou (6) in Athens..(Photo by: UDI ZITIAT)
Maccabi TA cruises to big win in Athens
Yellow-and-blue finally over .500 in the Euroleague after dominating Olympiacos on the road.
Maccabi Tel Aviv registered its third straight Euroleague win with its most impressive victory of the season to date on Thursday night, beating Olympiacos 80-73 in Athens.

The yellow-and-blue improved to 5-4, moving above .500 for the first time this season. Maccabi took an early lead and never lost control, opening what proved to be an unassailable 17-point margin (57-40) with a 13-3 run to start the second half.

After struggling on defense at the start of its campaign, allowing an average 93.3 points in its first three Euroleague games, Maccabi has shown a significant improvement under coach Rami Hadar, limiting its opponents to 74.3 points over the last three contests.

“I think that most of the game we played excellent defense. Until the last quarter we played perfect on defense and that gave us the victory,” said Hadar. “I have capable players to play defense. We are making progress defensively. We are forcing the other teams to play a set game, we are forcing their percentages down, but we are not there yet.”

Hadar spoke of the progress the team has shown in recent weeks.

“I think this win is a combination of the process that we are going through in Maccabi in two parameters. One is basketball – offense, defense, tactics.

And the other is the spirit,” he explained. “The guys played hard, they played accurate according to the game plan and I salute them for the effort.”

D.J. Seeley led Maccabi with 19 points, including five three-pointers, with Colton Iverson contributing 14 points and eight rebounds. Sonny Weems and Andrew Goudelock had 12 points each, while Devin Smith finished with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“We came out here and played aggressive on defense from the jump and set the tone for the game,” explained Seeley.

“We know we can play offense, but we struggled on defense at the start of the season. We all just got together and said that the key to winning is playing defense. We have got a lot players who can score but we needed to clamp down on defense.”

Matt Lojeski scored 15 points for Olympiacos, which fell to 5-4.

Vassilis Spanoulis added 14 points, but missed all six of his three-point attempts, with the Greeks hitting just 6-of-33 shots from beyond the arc (18.2%).

“This is a night that nothing went well for our team,” said Olympiacos coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos. “The beginning of the third period we were bad offensively and defensively and they scored a lot of easy points. Maccabi deserved to win.”

Maccabi looked sharp from the start, with two straight Smith three-pointers giving the yellow-and-blue an early seven-point gap (12-5). The margin reached double-digits following Seeley’s first points of the night (17-7), but Olympiacos limited the damage until the end of the first quarter, closing within four points (24-20).

Maccabi remained in front throughout the second period, leading between two and nine points before taking a seven-point cushion into the break (44-37).

As impressive as Maccabi’s first half was, the team’s third quarter was even better. Tel Aviv outscored the Greeks 13-3 in the first six-and-a-half minutes of the frame, with Victor Rudd’s basket opening a 17-point gap (57-40). Maccabi’s lead reached 18 points and the visitors were in cruise control with 10 minutes to play, holding a 65-49 cushion.

Olympiacos fought back and closed within six points in the final minute, but it was too little too late for the hosts, with Maccabi wrapping up a memorable win in Athens to continue its surge up the Euroleague standings.
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