Local Basketball: Hapoel J'lem closes in on Cup semis

Reds beat Bnei Hasharon by nine points in quarterfinal first leg; Mac TA struggles against Galil Elyon.

Hapoel Jlem Basketball (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Jlem Basketball
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
An excellent all-round performance by Guy Pnini helped Hapoel Jerusalem to an 83-74 victory over Bnei Hasharon in the first leg of the State Cup quarterfinals at Malha Arena on Sunday night. Pnini scored 18 points, grabbed five rebounds, passed five assists and stole the ball eight times against the club at which he started his career. Ramel Curry led the winners with 19 points, with Meir Tapiro scoring 19 points in his first game at Malha since leaving Jerusalem for Bnei Hasharon in the summer. "Jerusalem is like a home to me. I was nervous at the start of the game, but I put my emotions aside and tried to help Bnei Hasharon claim the win," Tapiro said after the game. "The tie will be decided in Ra'anana and hopefully with the help of our home fans we'll overturn tonight's result." Jerusalem coach Dan Shamir, who had to manage without his star player Jamie Arnold for a second straight game, was also keen to stress that the tie is far from over. "We're only halfway to the semis and the next half will obviously be much more difficult and interesting. I'm proud of my team and our fans deserve credit for the fact that we haven't lost at home." Also Sunday, Maccabi Tel Aviv struggled at home against Hapoel Galil Elyon, defeating its weak opponent by a mere nine points. Hapoel Holon and Hapoel Afula/Gilboa all but clinched their places in the last four with big wins against Ironi Ramat Gan and Ironi Nahariya, respectively. Afula/Gilboa won 96-78 against Nahariya while Holon Ramat Gan 87-58. The return legs will be played on the weekend of January 6. In Jerusalem, the highly charged game, which was a repeat of last year's final, got off to a fiery start, with the players nearly coming to blows more than once. A 5-0 Jerusalem run, capped by a Sharon Sasson (9 points, 7 rebounds) three-pointer, gave the team a 17-12 lead, but the visitors would answer back with a 10-2 run and opened a three- point margin (22-19). Cookie Belcher's (14 points) triple one minute into the second period extended Bnei Hasharon's one-point first quarter lead (24-23) and another triple by the American opened a six -point advantage (32-26). Hapoel would, however, lift its defensive play as the half progressed and two points by Dror Hajaj (11 points) gave the team its first lead in the second quarter (39-38). The visitors scored the first four points of the second half to regain the lead, but were immediately pegged back by Jerusalem. A Belcher basket to start the fourth period tied the game, but Jerusalem would go on a 17-3 run that opened it's first substantial lead of the encounter (76-62). Three-pointers by Pnini, Timmy Bowers (18 points) and Sasson stunned the visitors and ensured Hapoel would have a significant lead ahead of the second leg in Ra'anana. Maccabi Tel Aviv 90, Hapoel Galil Elyon 81 Maccabi led 32-23 after 10 minutes and was cruising at the break (60-43). The hosts, however, failed to build on their margin in the second half and Galil closed to within 12 points after three quarters (77-65). The visitors continued to eat away at the lead in the fourth period and will be pleased that they still have a reasonable chance to advance ahead of the second leg a Kfar Blum. Marcus Fizer scored 26 points for Maccabi, with Yotam Halperin adding 17 points. Yogev Ohayon and Mike Campbell each scored 18 points for Hapoel. Hapoel Holon 87,Ironi Ramat Gan 58 Holon opened a large lead at the very start of the game and led 25-9 after 10 minutes. The hosts maintained the margin until the break (42-25) and would pull even further ahead in the third quarter. A Ryan Lexer basket increased Hapoel's advantage to a massive 42 points (84-42) and made sure that barring a catastrophe the team will book its place in the semifinals in two weeks time. P.J. Tucker led Holon with 17 points and nine rebounds, with Chris Watson adding 15 points. Jerome Beasley was the only Ramat Gan player to reach double-figures, scoring 18 points. Hapoel Afula/Gilboa 96, Ironi Nahariya 78 The hosts didn't let their lowly league position effect their play and opened a 30-23 lead by the end of the first quarter. A 7-0 half ending run gave Hapoel a 10 point margin at the interval (50-40) and the team was still ahead by nine with 10 minutes to play (74-65). Ironi would have probably settled for a small loss, with the return leg still to be played at Nahariya, but Afula Gilboa won the fourth quarter 22-13 and gave itself an excellent chance to reach an historic semifinal. Amit Ben-David led Hapoel with 20 points, with Ekene Ibekwe and Tunji Awujobi each scoring 18 points. Ashante Johnson scored 13 points for Nahariya.