J’lem, Haifa keep pace in 2nd-place battle

Jerusalem beat Ironi Ashkelon 76-66 on the road, while Haifa recorded a 95-85 victory over Maccabi Ashdod at Romema Arena.

Paul Stoll  (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Paul Stoll
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
The three-horse race for the runners-up position at the end of the BSL regular season remained extremely tight on Monday night after both Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa claimed comfortable wins to move tied on an 11-7 record with Hapoel Eilat.
Jerusalem beat Ironi Ashkelon 76-66 on the road, while Haifa recorded a 95-85 victory over Maccabi Ashdod at Romema Arena.
Maccabi Tel Aviv (17-1) has already clinched the No. 1 seed in the playoffs with four more regular season games still to play, but the battle for second place looks set to go down to the wire, with Jerusalem, Eilat and Haifa all desperate to be the No. 2 seed and avoid a meeting with the yellow- and-blue until the BSL final.
Jerusalem opened a double- digit margin in the first period against Ashkelon (28-18), but the hosts would end the first half with a 13-2 run to move into the lead (47-46).
However, Ashkelon scored just 19 points throughout the second half and Jerusalem claimed its fifth win in six games despite only scoring 30 points in the final 20 minutes.
“We knew we were facing a tough battle against a team which is fighting for its life,” said Jerusalem coach Sharon Drucker, whose side faces both Haifa and Eilat in its remaining four games. “We played excellent aggressive defense in the second half and finished off the game the way we needed to.”
Craig Smith had 16 points and seven boards for Jerusalem, with Josh Duncan adding 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Jarvis Hayes had 19 points for Ashkelon, which lost its seventh consecutive game.
The encounter was marred by a violent exchange between Ashkelon player Gili Mosinzon and Drucker and others from the Hapoel coaching staff, with Mosinzon throwing a ball at the Jerusalem coach and tussling with the team’s fitness coach.
Haifa steamrolled Ashdod at the start of Monday’s show- down, opening a 20-point gap (43-23) thanks to a Paul Stoll three pointer, the team’s sixth in seven attempts at that stage.
Haifa survived some nervy moments after needlessly allowing Ashdod to close with- in five points (73-68) early in the fourth period, holding on for a second straight win.
“We’ve played two pretty strong games, but I never felt that we lost anything,” said Haifa coach Brad Greenberg.
“We lost some games on the road beforehand, but we did play well in between. The sea- son is long and there are lots of ups and downs and you need to maintain a balance.”
James Thomas dominated the paint for Haifa, scoring 24 points and taking 13 boards.
Gal Mekel added 18 points and nine assists, while Stoll contributed 17 points and seven assists.
Mardy Collins had 27 points for Ashdod, with Diamon Simpson adding 19 points and 11 rebounds.