Mac TA and Mac Haifa to clash in semis

Hap Jerusalem, Mac Ashdod round out final four remaining teams in preseason tourney.

MACCABI TEL AVIV’S Yogev Ohayon 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
MACCABI TEL AVIV’S Yogev Ohayon 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Israel’s top basketball teams entered the final stretch of their preparations for the new BSL season on Tuesday as the preseason Winner Cup commenced in Kiryat Ata and at the renovated Romema Arena in Haifa.
Maccabi Tel Aviv, which only returned from its training camp in Europe on Monday, overcome a slow start to beat Hapoel Eilat 86-63 in the last quarterfinal on Tuesday, setting up a meeting in Thursday’s semis against Maccabi Haifa, which defeated Maccabi Rishon Lezion 71-57.
Hapoel Jerusalem put on the most promising performance of the night with a 93-69 thrashing of Hapoel Holon and will face Maccabi Ashdod on Thursday after Ofer Berkowitz’s side defeated Hapoel Gilboa Galil 71-66.
In the final game of the evening in Kiryat Ata, seven points by Scotty Hopson gave Oded Katash’s Eilat an early 8- 2 lead. However, Maccabi slowly found its feet and trailed by just two points (17-15) after 10 minutes.
A 13-3 run, capped by a Yogev Ohayon three-pointer, early in the second quarter saw Tel Aviv move in front (30- 23) and the yellow-and-blue shifted into cruise control until the final buzzer.
David Logan had 20 points for Maccabi, with Lior Eliyahu scoring 15.
Hopson ended the game with 26 points.
“We didn’t really practice ahead of this game because of our late return to Israel, but this was a pretty good test,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt.
After a rocky summer, Jerusalem gave its fans plenty to look forward to on Tuesday ahead of the start of the BSL season on October 14.
The Malha faithful will be especially encouraged by the display of new American guard Jacob Pullen in Romema.
The 23-year-old former Kansas State Wildcat ended the game with 29 points and six assists, scoring 15 in the first half.
A Pullen basket gave Jerusalem a double- digit margin (24-14) after 10 minutes and Sharon Drucker’s men took a 42-33 lead into the halftime interval.
Holon closed to within five points (47-42) in the third period, but the ejection of its coach Dan Shamir and Jerusalem’s subsequent free throws allowed it to go on a 10-2 run that opened a 57-44 gap from which there was no return.
Craig Smith added 15 points for Jerusalem, with Josh Duncan scoring 13.
“I think this was a pretty good game for us,” said Drucker. “We are continuing to work on our coordination and this was a first step in a long journey.”
Frank Hassell had 26 points and 11 boards for Holon. In the opening game in Kiryat Ata, the rebuilt Maccabi Ashdod was led to the win by new center Diamon Simpson.
The young American dominated under the baskets, scoring 23 points and grabbing 19 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive end.
Gilboa got off to the better start, scoring the first six points of the encounter, but a 17-4 Ashdod run saw it move into a 40-27 gap midway through the second period.
Gilboa closed to within three points (40-37) by the end of the first half, only for Ashdod to open an eight-point (62- 54) advantage ahead of the fourth frame.
Lior Lubin’s team moved to within striking distance (68-64) in the final two minutes of the game, but Ashdod would clinch the win with a spectacular alleyoop slammed with authority by Chris Allen.
Allen ended the game with 17 points, while Rakim Sanders had 15 points for Gilboa.
In the curtain-raiser in Romema, Haifa held a five-point lead after 10 minutes (22-17) and maintained the margin until the break (34-29).
Rishon opened the second half with a 10-2 run capped by a Lazeric Jones basket (39-36), but the Greens replied with a 16-0 surge, with Donta Smith and Ido Kozikaro catching fire and combining for 13 of those points to give Haifa a 52-39 cushion it comfortably converted to a win.
Smith led Haifa with 19 points, while the 34-year-old Kozikaro contributed an impressive double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Adrian Uter had 16 points for Rishon.
“We worked hard on defense,” said Haifa’s new American coach Brad Greenberg. “Our offense is still a mystery to me. I’m not sure what’s going on sometimes, but the first thing you need is effort and we showed that today.”
The four BSL teams who aren’t participating in the Winner Cup also played warm-up games on Tuesday, with newly-promoted Hapoel Tel Aviv thrashing Barak Netanya 88-56 and Bnei Herzliya edging Ironi Ashkelon 80-78.