The Aggressor – Rishon Le’Zion knocks Maccabi out of Cup 88-77

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Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion shocked Maccabi Tel Aviv 88-77 to advance to the semifinals after knocking out last year’s finalist. The wine city squad dominated the yellow-and-blue throughout the contest as Guy Goodes’s side out hustled, out played and out worked Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s team.

Egor Koulechov scored 18 points, Cameron Long added 17 points while DeShawn Stephens chipped in with 12 points in the win. Scottie Wilbekin dropped 17 points and Alex Tyus scored 12 points for Maccabi.

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Rishon came out strong thanks to a pair of triples by Koulechov to take a quick 11-4 lead forcing Maccabi to take a timeout, but the yellow-and-blue finished the frame strong as Jake Cohen hit a couple of three’s to narrow the host’s lead to just 4-points, 20-16. Goodes and his squad again pushed Maccabi and extended their lead to 35-18 with 6:00 minutes remaining in the half as former Maccabi forward Diamon Simpson rattled off 9 points for Rishon. The host’s continued to build on their fine play as Nimrod Tishman hit two from beyond the arc to go into halftime with a commanding 51-29 lead.

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Wilbekin led Maccabi back into the game, cutting the Rishon lead to 61-48 with 3:31 left in the 3rd quarter but Koulechov, Simpson and Long held serve and went into the final frame up 65-51. Michael Roll put home 8 points over the first five minutes of the 4th quarter to give Maccabi lifeline, but Rishon’s Hamilton and Stephens each scored 7 points to sew up the 88-77 upset win.

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3-Pointers
1) Credit to Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion and coach Guy Goodes for absolutely dominating Maccabi Tel Aviv in every facet of their State Cup quarterfinal game. From out working, out hustling and just being the aggressor from the tip-off, Rishon knew exactly what weaknesses that they could expose in the Yellow & Blue. I wouldn’t even say that Rishon is less talented than Maccabi, they are a good team with extremely talented players and have in essence begun their season once again after letting go coach Tzvika Sherf. With a number of new foreigners in Diamon Simpson, Alex Hamilton along with holdovers DeShawn Stephens and birthday boy Cameron Long, Rishon is poised to be a force. Simpson, who had played with Maccabi a couple of years ago spoke about the contest and his return to Israel, “We executed and played really well plus our young guys are just really, really talented. It’s been a process and I believe it’s my first week back here. We’ve had 3 games and it’s coming so fast but our team is really good. They are really good people from the coaching staff to everyone else involved, so it’s not so hard a transition. When I first signed they said that this is the starting point.” It’s good to see Rishon playing well again.

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2) Back to Guy Goodes. Having been one of Maccabi’s assistant coaches over the past couple of seasons gave him an advantage of knowing the tendencies of his former players and admitted that at the postgame press conference. He also talked about what he told the players prior to the game and after the first half in which they led 51-29, “I told the players before the game that if we win, we will be remembered for a long time. I was surprised that we played such a good first half as we headed into halftime with a 22-point lead. But I told the players to just continue to play smart ball because Maccabi would make a run, which they did but we were able to keep the game under control.”

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3) Maccabi coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos was not a happy camper and he finally took the gloves off with his players screaming at them in a timeout and then following the game in the lockerroom.

He knows full well that losing in the State Cup quarterfinals is just not acceptable for a team with a tradition like Maccabi Tel Aviv. It’s just plain and simple an embarrassment that his team didn’t show up to fight. He kept saying that he takes full responsibility for his team not performing the way that they should but also pointed out that he will investigate to see why that was the case. I for one would like to know. It’s one thing when you just have a bad shooting night like John Dibartolomeo, but it’s something else when your team is nowhere to be found, “We started to shoot from the outside and didn’t go inside at all which was a problem. From one side we tried to pass and we turned the ball over and the other side when we passed the ball inside we couldn’t catch the ball. All the problems started because we weren’t ready to play tough and aggressive.” Sfairopoulos also discussed the mental side of the game especially when they head to Real Madrid for a huge Euroleague game on Thursday night, “We need a lot of mental work. Real Madrid is a different game. They will be ready. For me I want to win everything. If we are not ready then we can’t win nothing. We need to focus on our play.” And with that he cancelled today’s day off.

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Overtime
Captain John Dibartolomeo represented the team at the post game press conference and he seemed shell shocked to say the least. I know John for a number of years but he looked like he had just lost his best friend. You could see the pain and frustration on his face and it almost looked like he was going to cry as he knows full well the disappointment of losing the knock out game, “We didn’t come out aggressive from player 1-12 and we let them get comfortable. They are talented and once they got momentum we couldn’t stop them and didn’t do enough on either end to make our presence felt.” That’s for sure as the Yellow & Blue players just didn’t play like they did against Milano. Was it complacency? Was it a bad shooting night for a number of players? Was it that some of the players just didn’t understand the importance of the game? I don’t know, but what I do know is that Maccabi took so many three’s during the first half and allowed Rishon to dictate the pace of play, they never had a chance. The game was over after the first quarter.

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And-1 and some
To add insult to injury a Maccabi fan made her way to a restricted area near the lockerroom and started yelling at Scottie Wilbekin when he was leaving the building saying, “You lost my Cup.” In response the guard said to “Get the F— out of my face” which provoked her to say, “loser”. Yes, Maccabi lost and the players were frustrated and so were the fans both during and after the game and then as the players exited the building. It’s not a good look, but boy does everyone need to get on the same page fast because Real Madrid is just a few days away. The fans need Maccabi and Maccabi needs the fans. Both sides don’t want to see the Euroleague season head into the point of no return sooner rather than later.