Hasharon ousts Ashkelon in first semi, earns Thursday date with yellow-and-blue for title.
By ALLON SINAI
Maccabi Tel Aviv moved to within one victory of claiming its first State Cup since 2006 on Monday night after a three-year hiatus, defeating Barak Netanya 81-65 at the Nokia Arena to set up a showdown against Bnei Hasharon in Thursday’s final.A tight first half ended in a mere four-point Maccabi lead (35-31), but Tel Aviv completely outplayed Netanya after the break on its way to what eventually proved to be a comfortable 16-point victory.Andrew Wisniewski scored 15 points for Tel Aviv, which has never gone more than three years without lifting the cup.Raviv Limonad and Guy Pnini added 14 and 12 points, respectively. Robert Rothbart had 18 points for Netanya, with Danilo Pinnock and Marco Killingsworth scoring 17 and 15 points, respectively.Bnei Hasharon led throughout the first semifinal of the night against Ironi Ashkelon, playing in the last four for the first time in club history, and held off any comeback attempts to claim a 69-61 victory and advance to its third cup final in six years (2005, 2007).Dan Shamir’s team, which owns the best defensive record in the BSL, held Ashkelon to 16 of 51 from the field (31 percent), with Ariel Beit-Halachmi’s side scoring an atrocious one of 17 from beyond the arc.Sam Clancy led the victors with 20 points and eight rebounds, with Ron Steele adding 15 points. Jimmy Baxter had 18 points and eight rebounds in a losing cause for Ashkelon, which passed a total of just four assists in the entire game.Advertisement“We controlled the game from the start and we could have claimed an easier win,” said Shamir, who maintained his perfect cup record after leading Hapoel Jerusalem to back-to-back State Cup triumphs in 2007 and 2008 in his first two seasons as a head coach.Maccabi was adamant to get off to a quick start in the second semi of the night and Alan Anderson’s three-point play two minutes in gave the team a 7-2 lead. However, Netanya had no intention of losing touch with Tel Aviv and pegged Maccabi right back, even taking a 15-12 advantage after an Eran Asanti triple.Netanya was still ahead after 10 minutes (19-15), but Maccabi scored the first five points of the second quarter to move in front once more. The lead would exchange hands time and again in the subsequent minutes and it was Tel Aviv which had a slender margin (35-31) at the break.Maccabi tightened its defense at the beginning of the second half and quickly pulled ahead. A Wisniewski layup opened a 42-33 gap and Bluthenthal’s three with just over three minutes to play in the period extended the margin to a comfortable 12 points (48-36).The lead continued to mushroom in the following minutes and Tel Aviv took a 56-40 advantage into the fourth period of a contest it was never going to lose.In the opening match of the night, Bnei Hasharon got off to a quick start, with Erez Katz’s three-pointer giving the team a 7-1 lead. However, Ashkelon would score the next six points and Steele’s three-pointer in the final minute of the first period was all that separated the teams after 10 minutes (16-13).Ogonna Onyekwe’s triple to start the second quarter opened a six-point gap and a red-hot Steele couldn’t miss, giving Bnei Hasharon a 31-20 margin.An Ori Itzhaki layup increased the lead to 12 points (33-21), but Ashkelon would answer with a 10-1 run to cut the deficit to a mere three points (34-31).Katz’s three with less than a minute to play in the half extended his team’s advantage to two possessions yet again and Bnei Hasharon was well placed at the break, leading 40-33.Dan Shamir’s team continued to control the game in the third period, with a Shawn James basket extending the lead to 48-35.Bnei Hasharon was still ahead by double-digits at the start of the fourth quarter (56-46), but Ashkelon scored the first six points of the frame, with Brian Tolbert’s basket bringing the southerners to within four points (56-52).A Clancy dunk with just under four minutes to play opened a 62-54 lead, but Ashkelon was never going to give up and Tolbert’s accurate free-throws cut the gap to just three points (62-59).Ashkelon had a chance to tie the score in its subsequent possession, but Katz stole the ball from behind from an unsuspecting Moran Rot and the Bnei Hasharon guard hit a three at the other end to ensure his team remained in front and advanced to a third cup final in club history.
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