Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion won the evening’s first State Cup Semifinal by defeating Hapoel Tel Aviv 86-70. Rishon LeZion was down by a point at halftime but Alex Hamilton, Diamon Simpson and Cameron Long led Coach Guy Goodes’s squad to the 16 point win with a dominating 25-12 final quarter. Hamilton scored 23 points, Simpson added 22 points and 13 rebounds while Long chipped in 17 points and 7 assists in the win. Jerel McNeal led Hapoel with 18 points, Tomer Ginat scored 17 and Jamal Shuler ended the evening with 13 points in the loss.
Cup jitters got to both sides early with poor shooting over the first few minutes, but Hapoel Tel Aviv jumped out to a 14-7 lead as Ginat scored 6 points midway through the quarter. However, Rishon Le’Zion stormed back by the end of the first frame thanks to Hamilton’s 9 points to pull to within 14-13. The intensity began to pick up in the second quarter and Hapoel regained the lead 31-27 as Alade Aminu drained a hook shot and McNeal drilled home a triple forcing Goodes to call a timeout but Richard Howell picked up his third foul and had to sit for the majority of the first half. Simpson ratcheted up his play with 13 points in the frame and helped Rishon go into halftime down by just a point, 38-37.
Simpson and Hamilton continued their fine play to give Rishon a 50-46 advantage with 4:44 remaining in the third quarter and held on to take a 61-58 lead into the decisive frame. Five points by Adam Ariel extended the Rishon advantage to 71-64 in the 4th quarter, but the sharp shooting Simpson fouled out. Despite the forward’s loss, Long and DeShawn Stephens stepped up and scored at will over the last few minutes to take home the 86-70 win to book the wine city side’s place in Thursday’s final.
1) Alex Hamilton and Diamon Simpson we’re both spectacular. Hamilton’s outside shooting and slashing to the basket combined with Simpson’s strong play in the paint led Rishon Le’Zion to the victory. Both players were midseason additions to the team when Guy Goodes took over as coach from Tzvika Sherf and both have been terrific in the Club’s fine play over the last couple of months. Hamilton came over from the Lithuanian league while Simpson who played for a number of Israeli teams including most recently with Maccabi Tel Aviv plied his trade in Turkey last season. However, what sparked the final quarter outburst was the Israeli contingent. Up until then, Egor Koulechov has scored the only 3 points for the Sabras, but in the last quarter Adam Ariel, Oz Blayzer and Itay Segev all stepped up for Goodes. However, Ariel said it wasn’t the case of the team being split between Israelis and foreigners, “Segev was great defensively and Blayzer was good too but we are one team and it doesn’t matter where we are from.”
2) Rich Howell hasn’t found his stride yet since returning to action a few months ago. The center is usually a force to deal with and a threat on both ends of the floor, but the naturalized Israeli was neutralized by Rishon Le’Zion and after collecting his third foul was basically done for the evening. I had thought that Hapoel had a chance against Rishon just because of Howell but credit to Coach Goodes for taking him out of the game as he explained in the press conference, “I’m very satisfied with the result and we put together a great game plan to stop Richard Howell. Everyone did their part in the win and Diamon Simpson gave us a heroic performance.” Danny Franco, the Tel Aviv Coach also lamented the fact that Howell was never really in the game, “Howell has foul trouble and we expected that this may happen. We was upset at himself and he really wanted to win but his mistakes cost him the chance to play a significant role and never got into a groove. We weren’t able to get him into the game properly today and both sides are to blame.”