Local Hoops: Hapoel ekes out OT victory

Team keeps itself in the race for last Final Four spot with dramatic 93-89 victory over Ironi Nahariya.

Hapoel Jerusalem 248.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])
Hapoel Jerusalem 248.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])
Hapoel Jerusalem kept itself in the race for the last Final Four spot on Thursday night with a dramatic 93-89 victory over Ironi Nahariya at Malha Arena. Knowing that a defeat would end its season, the team in red battled throughout the 40 minutes of regulation and extra five minutes to grab the win. Despite the victory Hapoel only has a slim chance to advance to the Final Four. Hapoel first must defeat Hapoel Galil Elyon in its final game of the season and then for Nahariya to slip up against Ironi Ramat Gan and Ironi Ashkelon to lose to Hapoel Holon. Any other combination of results will see either Nahariya or Ashkelon advance to a semifinal meeting with Hapoel Holon."I'm very happy with the win, it was an outstanding game," Hapoel coach Ziv Erez said. Jamie Arnold was the inspiration for the home team on Thursday, scoring 20 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Guy Pnini and Timmy Bowers added 20 and 19 points respectively. Also Thursday, Bnei Hasharon returned to second position in the standings, defeating Ironi Ashkelon 84-76 behind Nitzan Hanochi's 29 points. Remarkably, Bnei Hasharon played the game with just six players because of its injury crisis. Hapoel Holon will finish the regular season in first position after beating Hapoel Galil Elyon 93-84 after overtime. Elton Brown led Holon with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Ironi Ramat Gan recorded an impressive 120-79 victory over Maccabi Rishon Lezion on Thursday, with Ori Itzhaki leading the winners with 27 points. There was a tense atmosphere in the Malha Arena from the outset, with the players and fans knowing just how crucial the game was for Hapoel's season. Jamie Arnold steadied the ship with the opening basket, the first of ten first quarter points for the former Maccabi Tel Aviv man. Two former Hapoel players - Ido Kozikaro and Matan Naor - who both moved to Nahariya in the summer had a point to prove, and combined for their team's first points of the game. But the visiting Nahariya side could not get a hold on the encounter and remained behind throughout the first half. A superb Arnold dunk early into the game, followed by a Guy Pnini three-pointer gave Jerusalem a 13-6 lead. By the middle of the first quarter Naor was falling all over the place in front of the basket while Arnold was controlling the game at the other end. With three minutes left in the period Naor missed an easy chance, Arnold stole the ball and raced down the court to put his team 17-9 up. Arnold was an inspiration in the last few minutes of the first quarter and in the opening three of the second, scoring six baskets in succession and ending the first half with 16 points in just over 15 minutes on court. Adrian Fledgler opened the second quarter with a dunk but the team from the north just couldn't keep up with the home side. Dror Hajaj made it 40-35 with three minutes left in the half which ended with Hapoel leading 45-39. Haopel surged ahead in the third quarter with the introduction of captain Erez Markovitch leading the way with a strong performance on both sides of the court, delighting the packed crowd with his defensive steals and point scoring. With five minutes left in the third period Pnini scored a clutch three-pointer to put his team ahead 58-50. But Nahariya was not done yet, by any means. Captain Barak Peleg had a great second half, and scored lay up to cut the hosts' lead to a single point (64-63) with 60 seconds left in the quarter. And 40 seconds later Otis Hill finally gave the visitors its first lead. Hill, a former Syracuse University star, was everywhere for Nahariya in the fourth quarter, scoring three baskets in a row at the start of the period and giving the visitors a 71-66 lead with 7.28 left on the clock. Jerusalem made every effort to get back into the game, but couldn't quite make it and the season seemed to be slipping away. However, the team in red was roused by the noisy home crowd and with 1.48 left it had pulled it back to a point (75-74) and a Pnini two-pointer gave it the lead again. The teams traded baskets and foul shots in the closing seconds and the game was sent into overtime with the score tied at 81-81. Nahariya appeared tire in the extra five minutes while Jerusalem pushed on. Sharon Sasson scored a three to make it 92-88 and finally a Wells free throw secured the win for Hapoel.