Nahariya claims final playoff spot as Hapoel TA edges Galil-Golan

Final Four coming up next week; other finalists J'lem, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Rishon register easy wins.

corey carr 88 (photo credit: )
corey carr 88
(photo credit: )
Ironi Nahariya clinched the last remaining ticket to next week's Final Four on Sunday with a 73-66 win over Bnei Hasharon in BSL Matchday 32. Avi Ashkenazi's team put on a strong fourth-quarter performance to set up a semifinal meeting with perennial champion Maccabi Tel Aviv. The Final Four will take place next Tuesday and Thursday at Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv, with Hapoel Jerusalem set to play Maccabi Rishon in the other semifinal. The only other team with Final Four hopes, Hapoel Galil Elyon-Golan, saw its chances slip away when Marcus Hatten made a buzzerbeating heave to give Hapoel Tel Aviv a dramatic 81-79 win. Hatten finished the game with 32 points. In other games, Jerusalem, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Rishon registered easy wins, showing that they are more than ready for their respective playoff games. At Nahariya, Guy Pnini stunned the hosts in the opening minutes with five quick points, but Nahariya stepped up its defense in the closing minutes of the first quarter to force a 21-21 tie. Otis Hill and Jayson Wells got hot in the second period and Nahariya started pulling away, taking a 39-33 lead at halftime with the playoff spot looking closer than ever. Bnei Hasharon played a determined third quarter and led 59-51 midway into the final period, but Hill poured in four points and made some crucial plays that helped Nahariya to tie the score at 60-60 with less than three minutes left in the game. Alvin Young took over late, scoring nine of his 19 points in the final period to push the hosts to a 69-66 lead with 32 seconds on the clock. Pnini, who finished with 21 points, missed a wide open three pointer and Nahariya closed out the game with two quick fastbreaks. "It has been a very turbulent season and we had to adjust after many personnel changes and injuries," Ashkenazi said after the win. "But in our four seasons in the BSL, we have made it to the Final Four three times and I am extremely proud of this achievement." Hapoel Jerusalem 88, Ironi Ramat Gan 75 Jerusalem's strong first quarter set the rhythm for the rest of the game, with Ramat Gan sometimes managing to narrow the gap, but never putting the hosts' win in danger. The only real action on the court was provided by former Jerusalem center Tunji Awojobi, who felt at home and scored 26 points for Ramat Gan. "Any of the four teams can win the playoffs. We don't need to worry about other teams, we have to prepare ourselves," Roger Mason commented on Jerusalem's chances in the Final Four. Regarding next season, he said, "I played three years in the NBA and I will explore my options there, but I love it here in Jerusalem." Jerusalem hosted a group of children from Shalva, The Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel, at the game. Maccabi Tel Aviv 90, Ramat Hasharon 61 Pini Gershon decided to rest his key players Willie Solomon, Tal Burstein and Jamie Arnold, but the yellowand-blue faced little resistance from the visitors. After a relatively tight first quarter, which ended 23-18 in favor of Maccabi, the game turned into a blowout. The score stood at 60-28 midway into the third period and the outcome was obvious as many fans left Nokia Arena early. Kirk Penney led the way for the hosts and connected four times from downtown to register 20 points in the game. Derrick Sharp made five threes and finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. Maccabi Rishon 86, Elitzur Ashkelon 78 Omar Sneed continued his solid form, leading Rishon to a comfortable win with a superb all-round performance. The forward dictated the flow of the game and finished with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists. James Head filled in the stat sheet for Ashkelon with 23 points and 17 boards in defeat. Shimrit Berman contributed to this report.