By ALLON SINAI
Hapoel Holon coach Amir Uzi hailed his team's 77-74 victory over Bnei Hasharon on Sunday night as a "small Hanukka miracle" after his side finally won its first game of the BSL season following an 0-7 start to the campaign.
Holon fans had gotten used to celebrating titles in the past couple of seasons, winning the championship in 2008 and the State Cup earlier this year. However, after a dismal start to the season, the club's fervent supporters were just hoping to see their team finally win a game on Sunday, and they erupted in joy as if they had claimed more silverware after the nerve-wracking victory.
"We can finally smile a little," Uzi said. "Our energy on court was outstanding. This victory is very important to our confidence and I believe that with a small addition to the roster we can still finish in the top eight."
Also Sunday, Maccabi Tel Aviv improved its perfect start to the season to 8-0 with an easy 102-85 victory at Ironi Ashkelon. Maccabi Haifa defeated Ironi Ramat Gan 80-69 for its fifth straight league win, while Maccabi Rishon Lezion beat Ironi Nahariya 78-68.
Hapoel Gilboa/Galil hosts Barak Netanya on Monday.
At Holon, a tight and nervy first half ended in a 34-28 Hapoel lead.
Bnei Hasharon took a slender advantage (54-53) into the final 10 minutes, but the lead would exchange hands time and again in the fourth period, with both teams struggling to make a winning run.
The crucial moment came with 1:55 remaining, with Dwayne Mitchell's three-point move opening up a 75-72 advantage which Holon would hold on to for the elusive victory.
"This feels really good," said Mitchell, who led Holon with 22 points.
"We played our heart out. This is a start of a new season for us. We wanted to forget the past and focus on this game. This is a very small step, but it is a good step in the right direction."
John Thomas added 16 points and nine rebounds for Holon, with Ogonna Onyekwe scoring 22 points for Bnei Hasharon.
In Ashkelon, the hosts began the game with a surprising run, opening a 7-0 lead after three minutes. However, despite some poor play, Maccabi cut the gap and led 17-14 after 10 minutes.
Tel Aviv put its foot on the gas in the second period, racing to a 52-30 advantage. Corry Carr scored the final five points of the half to minimize the damage slightly (52-35), but Maccabi was never going to be caught, leading by a double-digit margin throughout the second half.
Raviv Limonad led Maccabi with 23 points, scoring five of five from beyond the arc. Guy Pnini added 21 points for Tel Aviv, with Jimmy Baxter scoring 22 points for Ashkelon.
Meanwhile, at Romema, a 16-2 run gave Haifa a commanding lead in the first period and the hosts took a double-digit margin (30-20) into the second quarter.
The gap continued to mushroom in the second period, with a Davon Jefferson basket opening a 45-25 lead. Haifa was still comfortably ahead at the break (51-34) and Avi Ashkenazi's men sailed to a fifth straight victory.
Jefferson was his usual dominating self for Haifa, contributing 24 points and 10 rebounds. Ido Kozikaro added 11 points and 13 rebounds, with Taj McCullough Ramat Gan's only player in double-figures, scoring 27 points. At Rishon, the hosts opened an early lead and remained in front throughout the game. Aaron McGhee had 23 points for Rishon, with Paul Delaney scoring 18 for Nahariya.
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