Gershon's club continues its local swoon at Nahariya with earliest exit in 21 years.
By ALLON SINAI
In his six previous seasons as Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Pini Gershon never failed to claim a local title.
Besides guiding the team to three European triumphs, Gershon led Maccabi to six league and State Cup doubles in his first two tenures at the club, and no one at Tel Aviv dreamed he would fail to sweep the local competitions once more this season.
On Monday, however, Maccabi crashed out of the State Cup in sensational fashion, losing 99-85 at Ironi Nahariya in the round of 16.
Maccabi led throughout the first half at Ein Sara, but only had a four-point margin (49-45) at the interval and lost control of the encounter after the break.
Nahariya caught the visitors off-guard in the second half and quickly took a lead it would maintain for the remainder of the game.
The last time the yellow-and-blue was knocked out of the cup at such an early stage was 21 years ago at the hands of Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Monday's loss also means the team has failed to win the cup for a third consecutive season, something which has happened only once before in the long history of the competition.
"The simplest things didn't work for us tonight and that sometimes happens," Gershon said. "It felt like Nahariya were meant to win. Nahariya deserves credit. They executed their plays and we couldn't stop them."
Aaron McGhee led Nahariya, scoring 25 points, with Ron Lewis adding 23.
Tony Washam, who beat Maccabi three times last season as a player for Hapoel Holon , scored 18 points and pulled nine boards, with Raviv Limonad contributing 16 points and Yogev Ohayon scoring seven points, dishing 10 assists and stealing the ball four times.
"We have a good match-up against Maccabi and I knew this game would depend on us," Nahariya coach Ya'acov Jino said.
Carlos Arroyo scored 17 points for Tel Aviv, which also got 16 points from Yaniv Green and 11 points each from Lior Eliyahu and Marcus Brown.
A tight first period ended in a 23-19 Maccabi lead after the visitors scored 10 of the final 12 points of the quarter.
Nahariya held Tel Aviv to just two points in the first three minutes of the second period and Limonad's three-pointer tied the score at 25-25.
Maccabi regained its scoring rhythm in the subsequent minutes and Green's three point play midway through the quarter opened a 38-29 gap.
An Eliyahu basket extended the margin to a record 12 points (44-32), but Nahariya answered back with an 8-0 run, capped by Washam's two points.
The hosts trailed by just four points (49-45) at the break and quickly took the lead.
Maccabi lost its composure and couldn't buy a basket in the first six minutes of the second half, allowing Nahariya to surge ahead.
The hosts made the most of Tel Aviv's distress, and a Ohayon free-throw capped an 18-4 run, giving Ironi a double-digit margin (63-53).
Maccabi tried to limit the damage in the remainder of the period, but Nahariya held off the visitors and took a 69-61 advantage into the final 10 minutes of the encounter after a 24-12 third quarter.
Maccabi began the fourth with four straight points and closed to within one possession (71-68) soon after, following a Carlos Arroyo long range effort.
The momentum seemed to be squarely with the visitors but despite its foul trouble, Nahariya somehow kept Maccabi at bay.
Washam terrorized Tel Aviv's defense and four straight points by the fluid scorer opened a comfortable cushion once more (79-69).
The big margin and the dwindling time began to affect Maccabi and Gershon's men were losing their head.
The visitors failed to make any serious inroads into the deficit and Nahariya increased its lead as the game drew to a close on its way to one of the biggest victories in its history.
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