Hapoel Jerusalem beat Ironi Nes Ziona 86-72 in round four of the Israeli Winner League to move into first place.
The Reds came back strong with the win after a midweek loss to Galatasary to jump to a total of eight points in the standings, one ahead of Maccabi Tel Aviv and Rishon LeZion.
Donta Smith and Yotam Halperin dominated the scoring for Hapoel with 19 and 18 points respectively while Dior Fisher pulled down 10 rebounds and E.J Rowland dished out 8 assists.
Diamon Simpson put in a top performance for Nes Ziona with 19 points and 12 rebounds closely followed by Fuquan Edwin who netted 16 points with 9 boards. But it wasn’t enough to help their team win as the visiting side now sits in eighth place with five points.
The hosts took a narrow 20-19 lead after an exciting first ten minutes with two points right at the buzzer. They were trailing by one as the seconds were ticking down but an excellent full-court play by the Reds ended with Josh Duncan slamming the ball home as the clock struck zero.
Nes Ziona kept things tight in the second quarter going into half-time down by six points 40-34. The visitors were nearly overwhelmed at the start of the second-half as Hapoel began fast and extended their lead to 53-48 but Nes Ziona showed they were still in the game as they staged a comeback to tie things up at 58-57 with 10 minutes to play.
Hapoel came out looking strong in fourth quarter and raced to a 69-62 lead with the defense working well. They continued to dominate throughout the final frame and finished the match with a comfortable 86-72 victory.
Tony Gaffney put in a strong all round performance with 10 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks. He said: “That was a pretty ugly game for us. We lost focus a little bit but our fight, our energy and our resilience was what one us the points. I need to give a lot of credit to Nes Ziona because they came and gave us hell for 40 minutes. They have a lot of good players and they’re going to win a lot of games this year.”
The Hapoel center continued, “About a month ago this is a game we probably would have lost so to come away with a 14 point win is something we’re extremely happy with and we’re just going to get better.”
Gaffney also spoke about Hapoel and his teammates, “I’m very confident in our team. We’re a determined bunch of guys who want to improve every day and always want to win. Every player is putting the team before the individual and that is huge. I think we prided ourselves on that last year and that’s what put us on our run towards our championship, but we’re starting to do that a lot earlier this season and it’s only going to benefit us.”
Hapoel came into this match off the back of a 87-79 loss in Turkey but Gaffney doesn’t believe the midweek European games are a problem for the Reds, and he says the players are looking forward to next week’s game in Athens.
“We have a pretty veteran based team that’s used to playing two or three games a week. With that said it’s never easy but at the same time it’s what we get paid to do. It’s our job and we enjoy doing it. We know the situation [in Europe] but with that said we’re more excited if anything because we know what we’re capable of doing. We let one slip away against Galatasaray but I think they’re one of the best teams in all of Europe and we proved that we can play with them.”
He added, “It was tough to stay completely focused [on this game] knowing that we have these big games either side in Europe but we have a lot of veterans in the locker room who know what to do and they can put us into a position to win in Greece