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Optimism – Maccabi Tel Aviv puts up good fight but loses to Fenerbahce 74-70

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Maccabi Tel Aviv put in a valiant effort in coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s home Euroleague debut against Fenerbahce but came up short 74-70 as their continental record fell to 1-8. The Yellow & Blue played lock down defense and aggressive basketball for the full 40 minutes but it wasn’t enough to take the win. Scottie Wilbekin and Angelo Caloiaro scored 15 points a piece while Tarik Black and Kendrick Ray each dropped 8 points in the defeat. Kostas Sloukas led the visitor’s with 18 points, Marko Guduric added 13 points which all came in the 4th quarter and Jan Vesely chipped in with 11 points in the win.

Sfairopoulos’s squad started the game off with stifling defense, limiting Fenerbahce to just 2 points over the first 5:14 as they snagged a 3-point, 16-13 lead after ten minutes as Tarik Black, Kendrick Ray and DeAndre Kane scored 4 points a piece in the opening frame. Maccabi extended their lead to 41-36 at halftime as Wilbekin and Caloiaro each found 6 points in the second quarter while Deni Avdija saw his first Euroleague minutes and scored his first points as Luigi Datome scored 6 points to keep Fenerbahce close.

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Sloukas came out hot in the 3rd quarter with 8 points as Fenerbahce outscored Maccabi 19-12 in the frame to take a 55-53 advantage into the last quarter. The Yellow & Blue tried their hardest to take the game down to wire thanks to Wilbekin’s 7 points but it wasn’t enough as Marko Guduric dropped 13 points in just a shade over 4 minutes to take the win back home to Istanbul.

3-Pointers
1) Maccabi definitely played with renewed energy and purpose against Fenerbahce, but still came up a bit short. However, it’s clear that the players are all looking at this opportunity to turn around their season under new coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos and are very optimistic about it. They know that this is their chance to prove that they not only belong with the team but that they are truly winners, players who in the face of adversity will come up big. Alex Tyus spoke about the changes at Maccabi, “I thought we played well for the most part especially not being able to practice yesterday with the crazy situation in Istanbul. But as we get better and learn the coach’s system and believing in him, I think we will get better and get some wins.” Johnny O’Bryant also touched on the subject, “Anytime you bring a new coach in, I think the guys embrace a new start, play hard and be aggressive. Play defense as hard as we can and players are embracing that as you saw tonight.” While DeAndre Kane had the last word, “I don’t really want to talk about the coaches but for us as players and I can speak for me and my teammates we’re going to continue to work hard everyday no matter our record and try to get out of this little slump we’re in. We’ll continue to work hard and be better.”

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2) Kendrick Ray seems to be the biggest beneficiary of the change on the sidelines as well as Deni Avdija who put in his first Euroleague minutes when he entered the contest in the 2nd quarter to everyone’s surprise. Ray clocked in with 13 minutes and scored 8 points while playing tight defense in the dying minutes of the game, “They called my name and I’m going to go out there and play with confidence and try to help my team win. I’ll control what I can control. I stayed in the gym and worked hard and I knew that my time would come.” Avdija was shocked when Sfairopoulos called his name with 8:33 left in the second quarter. In one of his first touches he was able to take the ball downcourt via the right lane, cut into the box and went strong to the basket to score his first points. Hopefully those will be the first of many.

3) In such a close game against one of the best teams in Europe, Maccabi also looked for answers as to why they couldn’t pull off the win. DeAndre Kane spoke first, “Couple of plays didn’t go our way. It’s a tough loss for us knowing that we came out and gave it our all. If we can play like this, I think we can compete with anyone in this league. There were a lot of calls that were iffy for us that we needed to go our way in crunch time but didn’t. We’ll watch film and get better.” Ray also piped in, “There was great energy with the team and I feel we’re going to comeback and fix the little mistakes we had, get over that hump and get some wins.”

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Overtime
Marko Guduric killed Maccabi in the 4th quarter scoring all of his 13 points by hitting shot after shot in money time. What a performance. O’Bryant spoke about how he slaughtered the Yellow & Blue, “23 hurt us. We did a good job containing the main guys but 23 got hot in the 4th quarter and had something like 10 straight points. If we limit him and take some of those away I think we definitely win this.” I also asked coach Obrandovic about his thoughts on the subject matter, “He’s a young player that has had a lot of ups and downs and made an incredible mistake, but he scored 13 points in the most important time. I hope he will understand game by game and practice by practice. It’s true he played very well in the last quarter to help us win the game.” Never one to be short on words, Coach Obradovic is a unique, unique personality.

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And-1
The Israel National Team plays Serbia next Friday at the Drive Inn Arena and they are looking to have the players train with them beginning this coming Monday. There are 4 Maccabi players who were named to the squad and if they should all go, the Yellow & Blue will lose those four for the week of critical practices with new coach Sfairopoulos. Yovel Zoosman, Jake Cohen, Nimrod Levin and John Dibartolomeo are all supposed to be in the Blue & White camp in just 3 days. Sorry, but that’s just insane. Maccabi needs to have a full squad as the new coach tries to implement his philosophy and style, without a full squad, you can just kiss the Euroleague season goodbye. I asked the coach about this at the press conference and he seemed quite surprised with the question, “I agree 1000%. You are absolutely right and this is a very good question. We will overcome this, I don’t know how, but with the players that we have we will work hard. Yesterday, we were stuck in the airport and we made a meeting there. We will try to overcome this problem.” I followed up and asked if he will release the players, “This is not a question I can answer now. The administration and I will speak about this.” This is a very interesting and developing story that I’ll be covering over the next few days. Stay tuned…