Local Basketball: Maccabi TA back to its old self

Tzvika Sherf's men blow away Maccabi Rishon Lezion at the Nokia Arena, racing to 24-4 lead that effectively clinches 91-65 win.

vujcic 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
vujcic 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
For years Maccabi Tel Aviv would traditionally blitz its Israeli opponents on its way to one easy win after another. This season, however, the team uncharacteristically struggled in the BSL and even lost three of its last four league encounters under former coach Oded Katash. Maccabi's fortunes in the Euroleague changed since new coach Tzvika Sherf took charge and in his first league game as coach on Sunday the team was also back to its old self in the BSL. Tel Aviv blew away Maccabi Rishon Lezion in the first five-and-a-half minutes at the Nokia Arena, racing to a 24-4 lead that effectively clinched the 91-65 win. Just as importantly, Tel Aviv's Croatian center Nikola Vujcic returned to the court on Sunday, scoring two points and passing three assists. "I'm very happy that I played and that I'm finally finished with the injury," said Vujcic, who missed the last two months. "The knee is better, but not 100 percent yet. There has been an unbelievable change since Sherf has come in. We are the best team in the league and we have to show that in every game. We lost three games and that gave confidence to some of our opponents. We need, however, to try and win every game by as many points as possible." Also Sunday, Bnei Hasharon fell to a surprise home defeat to Hapoel Galil Elyon, losing 82-76 after overtime. Ironi Ramat Gan extended its winning streak to three games on Sunday, defeating Hapoel Afula/Gilboa 99-77. On Monday, Hapoel Holon hosts Ironi Nahariya in the final game of the week. Maccabi Tel Aviv 91, Maccabi Rishon Lezion 65 A 12-0 run in the first three minutes of the game, which was capped by a David Bluthethal three-pointer, gave the hosts an ideal start and Yotam Halperin's triple opened a 20 point margin (24-4). Will Bynum's basket from beyond the arc to beat the first quarter buzzer maintained the hosts lead (39-19) and was Maccabi's seventh three of the period. Tel Aviv strolled during the remainder of the encounter, allowing Sherf to rest his star players ahead of the Euroleague game against Cibona Zagreb on Thursday. Marcus Fizer scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds, with Terence Morris adding 12 points and nine rebounds. Cedric Banks led the visitors with 20 points and Juan Mendez added 17 points. Bnei Hasharon 76, Hapoel Galil Elyon 82 (OT) Bnei Hasharon's four game winning streak came to an abrupt ending on Sunday after a resilient performance by Galil Elyon. The visitors led by one point (33-32) after a low-scoring first half and seemed to be cruising to the win after opening a 59-45 lead with 10 minutes to play. Bnei Hasharon, which was playing without the suspended Cookie Belcher, fought its way back into the game in the final period and Erez Katz's three with two minutes to play tied the score (65-65). Meir Tapiro's floater with 40 seconds remaining gave the hosts their first lead of the second half (69-68), but the game would go into overtime after Mike Campbell tied the score from the free-throw line (69-69). The hosts scored the first points of the extra period, but Galil came right back and Gili Mosinzon clinched the win with 40 seconds to play after a superb Yogev Ohayon assist. Campbell scored 23 points for Galil, with Mosinzon adding 18 points and 11 rebounds. Ndudi Ebi led the hosts with 23 points and 17 rebounds. Hapoel Afula/Gilboa 77, Ironi Ramat Gan 99 After beating Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv in its last two league games, Ramat Gan coach Robi Balinko was concerned his players might struggle against the little heralded Afula/Gilboa. He had nothing to worry about. Ramat Gan raced to a 26-9 lead after six minutes and all but claimed the win after ending the first quarter up by 21 points (35-14). The hosts spent the next three periods unsuccessfully chasing Ramat Gan, which has now won three straight games. Brian Tolbert led the winners with 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists, with Ekene Ibekwe scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for the hosts.