By ALLON SINAI
Ironi Nahariya took a significant step towards booking its place in the BSL's season-ending Final Four on Monday night.
Nahariya trounced Bnei Hasharon 97-72 in Herzliya and opened a small lead over fifth-place Hapoel Galil Elyon Golan, which was thrashed 100-81 by Hapoel Jerusalem at Malha Arena.
With just three games remaining in the regular season, Nahariya is in pole position to clinch the fourth berth to the Final Four. Ironi's remaining schedule is easier than Galil's. It hosts Hapoel next Monday.
Galil was the BSL's form team until very recently, winning eight games out of nine. But it has lost its last three games by an average 17 points while Nahariya has defeated the second- and third-place teams in the last seven days.
"We played our best game of the season tonight," Nahariya coach Ariel Bet-Halahmi said. "Bnei Hasharon was far from its usual standard and we really needed this victory. We need to remain humble and composed and finish off the job."
Bnei Hasharon coach Effi Birenboim had no doubts about what lost the game for his side.
"Nahariya was four times more aggressive than us, and the more aggressive team always wins," he said.
A stunning start to the game by Nahariya set the tone. After seven minutes the visitors led by 17 points (22-5), with Bnei Hasharon no more than a bystander.
Ironi led 32-10 after 10 minutes and cruised to victory.
A Jeff Greer three-pointer opened a 44-20 lead. Even though Bnei Hasharon scored the last six points of the half, Nahariya still led by 19 points (53-34) at the break.
Nahariya led 78-54 at the end of the third period.
Ironi was led by Juan Mendez, who scored 26 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Raviv Limonad added 15 points and seven assists.
In Jerusalem, seven points by Meir Tapiro in the first three minutes of the game gave the hosts a 9-4 lead.
Two points by Galil center Kenny Adeleke brought the visitors within three points (13-10) midway through the first period, but Jerusalem's sensational offensive play clinched the victory.
Terrence Morris's basket with two minutes to go in the quarter opened a 21-14 lead, and the period ended 25-18.
Tapiro reached double figures with two points at the start of the second quarter, and two of his free throws later in the period extended made the score 38-23.
The lead continued to grow as the half came to a close. Good shooting by Horace Jenkins gave the hosts a 56-29 advantage. Galil cut the gap to 58-33 by halftime, but it was too little, too late.
Galil scored the first four points of the second half, but Jerusalem led at the end of the third period 81-55.
Six Jerusalem players scored in double figures, with Tapiro leading the team with 21 points, five rebounds and four steals.
Galil's Sasa Bratic led all scorers with 22 points.
Jerusalem made an amazing 32 of 42 from two-point range (76 percent).
"This is the second time this season that we've come to Malha and not shown up," Galil coach Oded Katash said. "We've been playing poorly in recent weeks and I hope this game will help us ahead of our next two very important games."
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