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Under the watchful eye of Masai Ujiri! Deni Avdija propels Maccabi to 80-71 win over Ness Ziona!

Dov Halickman Photography

Maccabi Tel Aviv pulled away from Ness Ziona over the final few minutes of the game to come away with an 80-71 victory at Yad Eliyahu. The visitors played the yellow-and-blue tough throughout the first 35 minutes, but the insertion of Deni Avdija with 5:21 left in regulation sparked Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad to an 11-4 run to secure the hard fought victory.

Othello Hunter who made his return following an injury scored 15 points, Jake Cohen added 13 points and 12 rebounds, Elijah Bryant chipped in with 11 points while Avdija scored 9 points and grabbed 5 boards to take the win. Corey Fisher led Nes Tziona with 16 points, Jeff Withey added 14 points and 11 rebounds as Jeremy Hollowell added 13 points in the defeat

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Maccabi Tel Aviv jumped out to a 23-19 lead after ten minutes as Jake Cohen scored inside for the Yellow & Blue while Jeremy Hollowell countered for Nes Ziona. Tal Dunne and Raviv Limonad powered Nadav Zilberstein’s squad into the lead 30-27 midway through the second quarter. But Othello Hunter and Elijah Bryant helped Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad regain the advantage at halftime 43-40.

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Corey Fisher and Greg Withey put Nes Ziona back in the lead early on in the third quarter but Cohen, Quincy Acy and Hunter scored for Maccabi to give the hosts a slim 52-49 advantage with five minutes remaining in the frame. Hunter and Tyler Dorsey found the bottom of the basket for the Yellow & Blue but Withey and Jeremy Hollowell scored as well to stay close down by just a point 58-57 after thirty minutes of action.

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Scottie Wilbekin, Elijah Bryant, Acy and Zoosman all scored for Maccabi but Hollowell, Cook and Limonad kept Nes Ziona within striking distance down by a pair of points, 69-67 with 6:05 left in regulation time. Deni Avdija came back into the game with four fouls and with a shade over five minutes to play to led the yellow-and-blue on an 11-4 run to take the 80-71 win.

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3-Pointers
1) Although he may have only played 14 minutes, scored 9 points and committed 4 fouls which forced him to the bench for the majority of the game, Deni Avdija came through in the clutch when Maccabi needed him the most. As mentioned earlier, Avdija came back into the contest with 5:21 left in regulation with the yellow-and-blue ahead by only a pair of points 69-67 and played top level ball scoring and rebounding like a true veteran. What was even more amazing is that Avdija was able to lead his team to the victory under the watchful eyes of Masai Ujiri and the rest of the Toronto Raptors brass who were taking in the game in Tel Aviv. Avidja stayed composed when he reentered the game with four fouls, took the bull by the horns and in essence made up for the first 9 disastrous minutes he had been on the floor earlier in the game. “Coach talked with me about what happened and he said I’m going to put you in, ignore the four fouls that you’ve got and just play your game,” Avdija said. “That’s exactly what I did. He made me chill and go back to business.”

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2) He certainly took care of business and his coach was very pleased with how he performed in crunch time as Sfairopoulos told me at the post game press conference, “The most important thing is to learn how to do it when you don’t start the game well and you get into foul problems. You saw after the second foul I sent Elijah to the table to go in as a substitute but then he (Avdija) made the third foul right after that and he was frustrated. When he made the fourth foul he was frustrated. I talked to him and told him that he has to be focused to play with four fouls in the most important period of the game and to be ready to play. That’s what he did and I am very pleased because of that because he learns how to do this and that is very important. He was fresh at the end of the game because of the fouls and he was out of the game. His participation at the end was very crucial for the win rebounding, defending and scoring. I am very happy how he did it. I want everybody to learn that you may not score but you can play defense, use your body, rebound and all these things can help the team win.” And what does Coach Sfairopoulos mean to Avdija? “He’s a great teacher and has a lot of experience. He knows how to motivate us and when to use us and when to talk to us. You can see that on the court.”

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3) With so many NBA teams rolling in and out of Yad Eliyahu you can’t help but think at how the presence of general managers, scouts and the likes of Masai Ujiri the Toronto Raptors World Champion President of Basketball Operations can effect a player and perhaps a coach as was asked in the press conference. Sfairopoulos said clearly that he doesn’t care about who is watching and that his job is to coach Maccabi Tel Aviv, get wins for his club and Avdija heading to the NBA is not on his radar screen. Avdija was also asked about the special visitors that have been constantly watching him play and if it affects him and he said, “Definitely not. I’m just going to play my game. If you love it, love it, hate it, hate it.”

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Overtime
Ness Ziona coach Nadav Zilberstein was a bit frustrated following the game and felt that if his team could have held on just a bit more they could have taken the win, “We played extremely well over the first 37 minutes, we attacked the basket well and scored solid points. We defended well but over the last three minutes we didn’t play as we would have liked.” If you look at the stat sheet one statistic that stares out is Daequn Cook’s 2/16 night which is not how he usually shoots. The 2009 NBA 3-point Shootout Champ went 1/10 from beyond the arc and was frustrated for the 26+ minutes he was on the floor. Coach Sfairopoulos saw Cook hit a winner against Maccabi last year at Nes Tziona wasn’t interested in a repeat performance and made sure his charges played stifling defense on the marksman, “We defended Cook very well and made sure he couldn’t get into a scoring rhythm.” On the other side of the court, Zilberstein was asked about Cook’s game and he firmly said, “He’s with us for a third season and I’m going to go with him in money time. He is a go to guy and has own games for us in the past and will win us games in the future as well.”

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And-Ones
Scottie Wilbekin and Othello Hunter were back for Maccabi after missing the Euroleague game at Zalgiris with injuries. Wilbekin went 2/8 good for 6 points while Hunetr scored 15 points. What does their return mean for the squad? Tyler Dorsey understands their importance, “They are two of our starters and catching a rhythm for them is good because we will need them on Thursday and we can get back to our normal rotations.” Avdija was short, sweet and to the point, “I don’t need to tell you how important it is to have Scottie and Othello back.”

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They Said It
Corey Fisher – “We played tough and they were tough as well. It was the second chances that we couldn’t get done. We have to play defense for the whole shot clock.”

Tyler Dorsey – “It was a rough game and one of the worst for the team offensively and defensively. We didn’t have the energy and we came out good but we didn’t have it after that. They scored easy baskets and scored in transition.”

Coach Sfairopoulos after winning the coach of the month award – “The trophy belongs to the players and my colleagues who work in the scouting department and work with the players.”

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