Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Maccabi Ashdod 93-70 to secure the league’s top spot heading into the playoffs. Jake Cohen starred for the Yellow & Blue with an MVP performance of 20 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals while Scottie Wilbekin added 16 points in the win. Lis Shoshi led Ashdod with 20 points in the loss.
Maccabi grabbed a 12-7 lead midway through the first quarter on the strength of a pair of Wilbekin triples but Ashdod’s Shoshi and Mark Tollefsen helped even up the score at 20-20 by the end of the frame. The Yellow & Blue ripped off a 13-3 run to start the second quarter as Michael Roll and Alex Tyus who finished the night with 13 points got into a groove while Cohen and big man Tarik Black also got rolling to help Maccabi end the half strong ahead 52-37.
Spencer Weisz who scored in double dights and Tollefsen began to chip away at the Maccabi lead throughout the third quarter but Tyus and Johnny O’Bryant made sure that the hosts went into the final frame with a 68-52 advantage. Shoshi tried to keep Ashdod competitive in the fourth quarter but Cohen and Wilbekin continued the offensive onslaught to give the Yellow & Blue a 2-point, 93-70 win.
1) Jake Cohen had one of those games where everything and I mean everything went his way. After a couple of 3-point misses, the Davidson product was just on fire. His shooting, passing, rebounding and everything else went just right. It’s always great when one of the good guys like Jake has a terrific game; if anyone deserves it, it’s him. Cohen puts in tremendous amounts of work and has continued to improve, not just in Israel but in Europe once Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos took over back in November. Jake became a legitimate Euroleague player after some had doubted his ability to do so. Sfairpoulos spoke about his contribution, “Jake was amazing and he played very well. You saw his quality and we know his quality and although this was one of his best games, he’s had other good games as well. He did some great things, not just his shooting and scoring but his rebounds, steals and he was all over the court offensively and defensively, It’s a pleasure to see a player like Jake performing as he did, but we have quality on our team and each player can show up on a different day.” Captain John Dibartolomeo also chimed in on what Cohen brings to the table for Maccabi, “Jake can do it all. He’s smart player and team guy. He steps up when he needs to and he was everywhere, passing, rebounds, scoring. It speaks to him always being ready when his moment is there.” Good for Jake! Go get ‘em!
2) What did the always modest and humble Cohen have to say about his performance when he began the game missing a few triples? “The shot’s aren’t always going to go in. I thought I took some good shots tonight and some of my 3’s didn’t go in but they felt good and I was going to keep shooting them. I had some easy passes to teammates and Tarik (Black) was a beast inside and I just had to get him the ball and he would finish it. I felt that I was in a really good rhythm tonight and we had just a great team flow on both ends and we had some good stops. They made me feel like I was in a zone, contributing, making decisions and helping the team.”
3) The victory gave Maccabi home court advantage and first place allowing them to choose to play the Final Four at they home arena. The Yellow & Blue have had a chance to really work on their play over the past month in practice which was lacking during the winter months when the Euroleague was still in session and it has showed. Cohen talked about wrapping up the top spot and the keys to victory, “It was important to get the win as we locked up first place, I thought we played well both offensively and defensively and in transition. We made them uncomfortable and did a good job on their guys as they have some who can go off for 20 points just like that. Everyone did a great job containing them and getting them out of their comfort zone and you saw the results as we were able to get out and run, be dynamic and that’s one of the qualities of our team. One of the best qualities of our team is that when we get out and run we can finish the ball really well as we have great finishers and good shooters. I’m happy we got the win and now we can get ready for the playoffs.” Sfairpoulos also commented on his team’s play and shutting down the ever dangerous Paul Stoll, “We played a very good game against a team that is very talented offensively and they have a great scoring rhythm. If you underestimate them they can create damage. I think we did a great job on Paul Stoll who only scored 5 points and although they made some tough shots we played a game that made them feel uncomfortable and that’s how we kept them to 70 points.”
Maccabi Ashdod and Brad Greenberg have had a rough season. Injuries were the name if the game at the beginning of the season and roster changes were seen throughout the campaign. But one player who has been consistently good all season long is Lis Shoshi. The center not only can score from the inside but has a sweet shot from the outside as he’s averaged 12.8ppg, plus he’s a rebounding machine, grabbing 7.7 boards per game. I asked Greenberg about Shoshi’s campaign to date, “It’s been a good year for him as last year was his first year as a pro and he only played part of a season and did ok. But this is a full professional season and he’s had some really strong games against quality teams. He’s made progress and he has to stay that course because he has the potential to be a high level player. He’s 7” tall, agile, has a touch, can rebound and block a shot. He’s got the makings of a high level player but he needs experience and he needs to get stronger. He can be a little more fierce on the court and he’s not that type of person if he wants to play at a really high level he will have to be a fierce competitor. He’s never going to weigh 260 pounds but a guy that will give up something to guys in the front court so he will need to make up for that by being very, very aggressive.”