Yellow-and-blue trounces Ashdod in semi; Hap TA comes oh-so-close, falls 78-77.
By ALLON SINAI
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s magical State Cup run ended in heartbreaking fashion at Nokia Arena on Monday night, with the National League leader being edged 78-77 in the semifinals by Barak Netanya, which will face Maccabi Tel Aviv in the final on Thursday.Hapoel looked to be on its way to its third straight upset victory over a BSL team after taking the lead at the midway point of the second quarter and holding it until deep into the fourth period.However, Netanya’s Adrian Banks guided his team to the win almost singlehandedly in the final frame, scoring 16 points in the final six minutes of the encounter, including the game-winning free-throw with 1.7 seconds to play.“I still can’t believe what quite happened”, said Banks, who ended the contest with 29 points and seven rebounds.“We were down by as many as 13 points, but we always believed we could come back.”Romeo Travis had 13 points and 11 rebounds for Netanya, which won despite shooting just 38.8 percent from two-point range (19 of 49) and 57.1 percent from the line (16 of 28).“Hapoel controlled much of the game, but we came back in the money time,” Netanya coach Eric Alfasi said.Advertisement“I’m proud of my players for advancing to the final after losing in last year’s semis.”Brian Asbury had 24 points for Hapoel, with Adrian Uter adding 22 points and 15 rebounds for the forlorn Reds.“This is a massive disappointment,” Hapoel swingman Matan Naor said.“Our fans deserved a win, but I’m sure that in a few years time we will look back at this game with a lot of pride.This experience gives us even more motivation to get back to this stage in the future and we must remember that our main target is to gain promotion to the BSL.”The second semi of the night was as good as over after 10 minutes, with Maccabi Tel Aviv outscoring Maccabi Ashdod 27-3 in the first period on its way to a 98-61 victory.The yellow-and-blue held Ashdod to an embarrassing six percent (1 of 16) from the field in the first quarter and the remainder of the game was completely meaningless.Lior Eliyahu led Maccabi with 18 points, with Richard Hendrix scoring 14 points for the yellow-and-blue, which are looking for their second straight cup triumph.Ramel Bradley had 17 points for Ashdod, which never looked like a team that believed it belonged on the same court as Maccabi.Romeo Travis would score the first points of the night’s first semi for Netanya and Alfasi’s men held a slender margin for much of the first period.However, Hapoel always remained in touch with Netanya and Uter’s freethrow to end the first frame tied the score at 21-21.Uter gave Tel Aviv its first lead of the game from the line at the start of the second period, and with Netanya’s defense unable to slow down either Uter or Asbury, the margin inevitably mushroomed.Uter ended the first half with 17 points, but it was Asbury who sparked Hapoel’s breakaway.A triple by the former University of Miami forward followed by another long range basket from Naor increased Hapoel’s lead to 36-31 and Sharon Avrahami’s side was soon ahead by nine points (40-31) after a rare fourpoint play by Asbury.Gal Eitan’s successful free-throw gave Tel Aviv a double-digit gap (45- 35) at the break and the underdogs remained in control at the start of the second half, with Yaron Lahat’s threepoint play opening a record 13-point gap (54-41).Netanya replied with an 8-0 run, capped by three points from Banks, but after struggling at the offensive end for the entire quarter, Uter finally scored his first points of the second half two seconds to the end of the period to give Hapoel an eight-point cushion (61-53) with 10 minutes to play.Tel Aviv’s fans could smell the victory after their team scored the first five points of the final period (66-53) to move into a commanding position, but Hapoel completely lost its scoring touch after that, and two successive threes by Banks brought Netanya back within five points (67-62) with five minutes to play in the game.Four quick Hapoel points opened a comfortable margin once more, but after misfiring all season long, Banks all of the sudden couldn’t miss from beyond the arc and another three by the guard cut the gap to just four points (71-67) with 3:22 to go.Asbury’s points from the line with 1:47 remaining moved Tel Aviv into a five-point lead (75-70), but just when it seemed that Hapoel was on its way to the final, Netanya pulled off the most dramatic of comebacks.A three by Shmulik Brenner cut the margin to two points (75-73), only for Asbury to hit a long jumper at the other end to keep Tel Aviv in the driving seat (77-74) with 44 seconds to play.However, Banks continued his oneman show, evening the score with a triple with 35 seconds on the clock and an Asbury miss soon after put the fate of the game in the hands of Netanya’s American guard.After the fourth quarter he had, there was no way Banks was going to disappoint Netanya in its moment of truth.After being fouled by Asbury with 1.7 seconds to go, Banks hit his first freethrow before missing the second intentionally to send his team through to the final in nail-biting fashion.
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