Hapoel Tel Aviv ends long wait with road win

Reds outlast Hapoel Jerusalem to claim first BSL victory since returning to league.

Hapoel Tel Aviv's Curtis Kelly 390 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv's Curtis Kelly 390
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv claimed its first win in the BSL after six years on Sunday night and it couldn’t have been much sweeter.
The fan-owned club, which was promoted to the top flight last season, suffered an overtime defeat to Bnei Herzliya in its opener last week, but recorded an 84-77 win over bitter rival Hapoel Jerusalem last night to get off the mark at Malha Arena.
A Tel Aviv run at the start of the fourth quarter decided the game and Jerusalem dropped to a 0-2 start, piling the pressure on coach Sharon Drucker just a week into the season.
Also Sunday, Maccabi Haifa thrashed Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 90-66, Maccabi Rishon Lezion beat Hapoel Eilat 101-90 and Hapoel Holon cruised to an 84-62 win over Maccabi Ashdod.
A very tight first half at Malha ended in a 39-39 stalemate and it seemed inevitable that the game would be decided in the final 10 minutes.
Jonathan Skjoldebrand’s threepointer gave Tel Aviv a five-point advantage (61-56) entering the fourth quarter and the visitors began the period with a crucial 7-0 run capped by a Demontez Stitt triple.
Despite having plenty of time to mount a comeback, Jerusalem came no closer than six points, with Gal Eitan’s three with 1:41 remaining reestablishing a double-digit margin (81-71) and effectively clinching the win.
“You should never underestimate us,” said emotional Tel Aviv coach Erez Edelstein.
“This is Hapoel Tel Aviv. We played without an injured foreign player and another one of our foreigners got into foul trouble, but a team is measured by its heart not by its budget.”
Stitt had 20 points for Tel Aviv, with Skjoldebrand scoring 17 for Edelstein’s team, which was outrebounded 42-25 but recorded 14 steals.
Craig Smith led Jerusalem with 21 points and 11 rebounds, but Sharon Drucker’s men shot themselves in the foot by committing 23 turnovers.
“Whenever we had a chance to make a run we made a mistake and lost the momentum,” Drucker said.
“We have opened the season with two defeats and we now need to claim a win any way possible.
“This is a tough and tight league and we don’t have an advantage against any team.
“If we don’t execute like a team we will not get to where we aspire to be.”
At Romema, Haifa ended the first period with a 7-0 run, opening a 22-15 lead.
The hosts increased the gap to doubledigits (38-26) after an Ido Kozikaro basket midway through the second quarter, but Gilboa closed to within six points (43-37) by the break.
Gilboa’s challenge would not last for much longer however, with a 16-2 run giving Haifa a comfortable 59-41 margin, ensuring the Greens sailed to the win in the final frame.
Donta Smith was Haifa’s top scorer with 21 points while also passing eight assists, but the performance of the night was registered by Pat Calathes. The Greek forward had 15 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists, with Paul Stoll also scoring 15 for the winners.
“We played a better second half and we got out on the open court and got some easy buckets,” said Haifa coach Brad Greenberg.
“They didn’t shoot well in the second half and that gave us a chance to run a bit.
“We also forced a couple of turnovers and that gave us the momentum.”
Kenny Hayes netted 19 points for Gilboa, which has gotten the season off to a nightmare start, losing its first two games by an average 20 points.
Ashdod was one of the BSL’s more impressive teams in the preseason, but it dropped to its second straight defeat on Sunday, being outplayed in Holon.
A Sean Daniel three-pointer gave the hosts a double-figure lead (27-15) after 10 minutes and the second half was garbage time after Holon extended the gap to 43-23 by the interval.
Jerome Dyson scored 23 points for Holon, with Frank Hassell adding 12 points and 19 boards.
Diamon Simpson had 16 points and nine rebounds for Ashdod.
Rishon Lezion became the first team to begin the season 2-0, effectively clinching the win with an 11-0 run to start the second quarter (40-22).
Julian Wright’s basket to end the half extended the gap to 25 points (54-39) and the lead never dropped below eight points in the second half.
Adrian Uter led six Rishon players in double-digits with 23 points and 12 rebounds, with Wright also posting a double-double, contributing 16 points and 11 boards.
Jerome Tillman led Eilat with 25 points.
On Monday, Ironi Ashkelon welcomes Maccabi Tel Aviv and Herzliya faces Barak Netanya.