Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated upstart Hapoel Eilat 99-92 at Yad Eliyahu in Tel Aviv. The Yellow & Blue led throughout most of the contest as Scottie Wilbekin provided the offense with 23 points while Tarik Black’s huge fourth quarter helped Coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s side to the win. Black ended the night with 14 points while Johnny O’Bryant added 15 points and Michael Roll chipped in with 12 points in the win. Elijah Bryant led the way for Sharon Drucker’s Eilat with 21 points, Suleiman Braimoh chipped in with 16 points and Jonathan Skoljebrand scored 14 points in the loss.
Maccabi took a 14-10 lead out of the gate thanks to a pair of triples by Wilbekin but Bryant with ten points kept Eilat close 27-23 after ten minutes. The visitors from the Red Sea continued their momentum into the second frame with an 11-3 run to take a 34-30 advantage with 7:36 left in the half. But Wilbekin and Roll propelled Maccabi back into the lead 43-40 while O’Bryant, Caloiaro and Tyus turned up the heat right before halftime to head into the break ahead 60-48.
Braimoh and Eilat began reeling Maccabi in throughout the third quarter but Deni Avdija’s 7 points kept the host’s in the lead 76-67 after thirty minutes. Black who had been quiet all night ripped off 12 points over the first five minutes of the final frame as Maccabi began pulling away 91-76. But Jonathan Skoljdebrand narrowed the gap to 7 points, 93-86 with 4:06 remaining in the game. However, Wilbekin rattled off 6 late points as Maccabi sewed up a 99-92 win.
1) Maccabi got back onto the winning track after losing three straight games across all competitions. The Yellow & Blue enjoyed a terrific performance by Scottie Wilbekin who was able to score at will and control the flow of the game during the thirty minutes he was in the contest. He was a true floor general in every sense of the word and took it upon himself to lead his squad to victory. How did he feel about facing Eilat, a team that they may see again in the Final Four should both sides advance, “Everybody’s a threat. They can play better and hit more shots. They played a zone for most of the game which I think was part of their game plan. We did a good job, but we have to be ready for them to play better and we also got to play better.”
2) Tarik Black had a tremendous 4th quarter with 12 huge points to help Maccabi wrap up the victory. He was able to force his will on Eilat over the final frame after having had a quiet game up until that point. How important will Black be for Maccabi the rest of the way? He’ll be very important without a question and he has to make sure that he’s all in throughout the entire game just like he told The Sports Rabbi following the contest, “I’m really elated about the 4th quarter performance and helping the team get to a win. It would have been nice to do it throughout the whole game but even if it happens in the 4th it’s pretty good to happen. More importantly than what I did it was how I could contribute to us winning in that fashion.”
3) At the pregame press conference, Sfairpoulos spoke about how, “Everybody who comes to play the game needs to be ready to play” and that was evident by the energy shown by the players across the board for 40 minutes. The coach spoke about some players who had started to get back into the swing of things like Jake Cohen who had worked hard with video analysis and others who began to contribute to the cause. Sfairpoulos spoke about his players efforts, “Yes, everybody was ready to play. I think that this was not an easy game and Eilat is a very dangerous team with a lot of talented players. We made some mistakes but everybody was ready.”
Sharon Drucker has done an admirable job with Hapoel Eilat this season and is getting 1000% out of his squad that has only 3 foreigners. The Reds Sea side has had financial issues all season and although they would love to add another player there still is the issue of finding the money to do so. However, one of the the great things about the team is how well they play as a team and how well they get along together as not only a team but as a well oiled machine. One of the cogs in that machine is Avi Ben Chimol. The veteran guard dished out 16 assists (!). Yes 16 assists. I asked Drucker about his point guard’s importance, “He never thinks of himself and always about what is best for the team. Sometimes I have to yell at him to shoot. You can see from the stats that we are first in the league in assists and it shows when you have a player like Ben Chimol who rubs off on the others.”