State Cup: Bnei Hasharon stuns Maccabi Tel Aviv

Lee Nailon and co. reach State Cup final along with Hapoel Jerusalem.

Bnei Hasharon 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Bnei Hasharon 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For the first time in 10 years, Israeli basketball will have a new State Cup holder after Bnei Hasharon stunned Maccabi Tel Aviv 94-87 in their semifinal at Nokia Arena on Monday night. Bnei Hasharon led throughout the match and withstood a late Maccabi surge. It will face Hapoel Jerusalem, which thrashed Ironi Ramat Gan 117-78, in Thursday's final. Bnei Hasharon was led by Lee Nailon, who put on an offensive master class, scoring 31 points from every point on the court. "We put on a heroic display at Maccabi's home," Bnei Hasharon captain Erez Katz said after the game. "I'm proud of every one of the players. "We were more aggressive and more determined. Our will and defense made the difference." Bnei Hasharon coach Effi Birenboim will be going for his second cup after guiding Bnei Herzliya to the title in 1995. "I told my players that Tel Aviv's greatest asset is their tradition and because of that, all of Europe will be talking about our victory tonight," he said. Earlier in the evening, Hapoel Jerusalem cruised without trouble to the title game, opening a double-digit lead in the second quarter and never allowing Ramat Gan to close within reach. "We made the game easy," Jerusalem coach Dan Shamir said. "I'm glad we could lower the intensity at the end of the game and rest some of our players ahead of Thursday." Bnei Hasharon 94, Maccabi Tel Aviv 87 A dunk by Bnei Hasharon center Ousmane Cisse to start the game showed that the underdogs had no intention of giving up without a fight and it wasn't long before the club opened a substantial lead. Moshe Mizrahi's jumper after six minutes capped Bnei Hasharon's 16-2 run to begin the game and the team led 22-10 after the first period. Effi Birenboim's men continued to widen their lead at the start of the second quarter and were astonishingly up by 20 (40-20) after Erez Katz hit a three-pointer midway through the period. The 20-point deficit didn't break Tel Aviv and two straight threes by Goran Jeretin put the reigning State Cup holders back within reach (42-30). Maccabi continued to edge closer and a Jamie Arnold layup cut the lead to a mere eight points. However, Bnei Hasharon withstood the pressure and maintained its advantage, leading 52-42 at halftime after Will Bynum's buzzer-beater. The teams exchanged baskets at the start of the second half, but Maccabi failed to eat any further into its opponents' advantage and five straight points by Cookie Belcher midway through the quarter gave Bnei Hasharon a 69-52 lead. A Mizrahi three at the end of the third period put his club up by 18 points (78-60) and Bnei Hasharon was only 10 minutes away from a huge upset. The Sharon side maintained its lead for the first five minutes of the final period, but Maccabi came roaring back. Three-pointers by Bynum and two clutch triples by Derrick Sharp in the final two minutes cut the margin to just four (91-87) and with one minute to go, there was everything to play for. However, with the game on the line, Tel Aviv failed to score another point and Bnei Hasharon booked its ticket to the final. Hapoel Jerusalem 117, Ironi Ramat Gan 78 After a tight start to the game in which both teams scored on almost every possession, Jerusalem's superiority began to show and the team edged ahead. A Dror Hajaj three put his club up by four points (21-17) and Guy Pnini's basket from an offensive rebound with three seconds remaining in the period gave Hapoel a 25-19 lead after 10 minutes. Ramat Gan was unable to keep pace with its opponent and by halftime, the team was down by 20 after Erez Markovitch beat the buzzer with his hook shot to put Jerusalem up 59-39. The halftime break did nothing to slow down Jerusalem and a stunning Timmy Bowers dunk midway through the third quarter followed by a Hajaj three gave the team a 75-45 lead. An 86-58 Hapoel advantage at the end of the third period rendered the last 10 minutes of the game meaningless and Jerusalem piled the misery on Ramat Gan and cruised to another cup final. Markovitch was Hapoel's top scorer with 25 points, while Terence Morris added 20 points and 10 rebounds. Jai Lewis led Ramat Gan with 17 points and nine rebounds. EXTRA Jerusalem continued to extend its advantage at the start of the second period and Mario Austin's triple gave his team its first double-digit advantage of the game (30-20).