Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion defeated upstart Hapoel Beer Sheva 78-66 to capture the WINNER CUP Preseason Tournament at Beit Maccabi in Rishon Le’Zion. Cameron Long was named the competition’s MVP after averaging just under 19 points per game.
In a game that was never in doubt, Rishon Le’Zion took a 15-7 after the first ten minutes which featured poor shooting from both teams. Long scored 15 points in the second quarter for the host’s as they took a 45-21 lead into halftime. Taylor Braun (21 points) valiantly tried to bring Beer Sheva back into the game and cut the Rishon lead to 56-43 after thirty minutes but the deficit proved to be too much as Zvika Sherf’s side recorded the 12 point, 78-66 victory.
Cameron Long led all scorers with 24 points, pulled down 7 rebounds and drew 12(!) fouls as Deshawn Stephens added 13 points, Oz Blayzer chipped in with 10 points and Egor Koulechov recorded 9 points and 12 rebounds for the Champions. Taylor Braun led Beer Sheva with 21 points as Samej Christon added 12 points and Travis Warech dropped 11 points in the loss.
1) Congratulations to Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion for winning the WINNER CUP! They deserved it. After beating Bnei Herzliya, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem, Hapoel Beer Sheva was next in line. Cameron Long, Deshawn Stephens, Itay Segev Egor Koulechov and Captain Oz Blayzer look like a solid core and were definitely celebrating the team’s arts ever preseason tourney title. Blayzer expressed his excitement about lifting the Cup in front of the Rishon fans, “Every title is important and this is the first time I lifted a Cup and I hope that this won’t be the last. It’s great and as the captain it was a big honor for me personally.”
2) Can Rishon Le’Zion win the Israel Basketball League Championship? They certainly look like they can. Coach Zvika Sherf built a fantastic squad with quality Israelis and solid foreigners and look poised to compete for the title that they won back in 2016. Two of the key players on the team will most definitely be Cameron Long who picked up the MVP honors in the tournament and Egor Koulechov who returned to Israel from the University of Florida. Speaking at the post game press conference I asked Long about his side’s chances this coming season, “For sure. We were able to do it now and we can definitely do it again.” When I spoke to Koulechov after the game he was a bit more reserved about the team’s chances but nonetheless was very positive, “It’s early but obviously that’s what we want. We’re going to keep working and we’ll see how the season goes. I believe in the guys and the coached believes in us.”
3) Semaj Christon couldn’t find his shot when Beer Sheva needed it most; in the 1st quarter, yes right at the start of the game. You may not be able to win the game in there first ten minutes but you can certainly lose it and that’s exactly when the southern side fell. With the score 9-4 for Rishon midway in the first frame and no quality shots in sight, Rami Hadar needed to find a way to set up a play to get Christon an easy bucket just to get him going, but it just didn’t happen. Although he finished with 12 points, the former OKC guard scored only 2 points on 1/5 shooting over they course of the first half. I asked Hadar about this at the post game press conference and has answer was short and sweet, “It happened one time, it’s not a phenomena.” And there’s no reason to doubt that after watching him over the past week, plus we do have to remember that he had just played a double OT game that he won on a last second shot.
It’s clear that Egor Koulechov is a star in the making and it’s exciting to watch him play as you never quite know what you may see. Although he went 1/14 from the floor today, he still dropped 9 points including 6/8 from the free throw line while playing after receiving stitches right about his right eye. The Sports Rabbi spoke to the up and coming start after the game about winning the competition, “It feels good and it’s the first title of the year. Everybody wanted to take it and were happy and fortunate to start off the season right. Now we are just looking forward to the start of the season on Sunday.”
Koulechov continued about Beer Sheva’s attempt to get back into the game, “At halftime we talked about how we had to stay in it and we didn’t do a good job of it. Early in the 3rd quarter their made their run and crawled back into the game. We had to make some adjustments in order to take the game.” It’s crystal clear that Israel has a tremendous player with potential that would be described as “The skies the limit.”