Bnei Herzliya stunned Maccabi Tel Aviv 96-74 to advance to the Israel basketball league finals as they came back from one game down to take the series 2-1. Oren Aharoni’s squad outplayed the yellow-and-blue for the entire 40 minutes with a well balanced attack that featured five players in double digits while controlling the boards 42-33. The victory was Herzliya’s first this season against Maccabi Tel Aviv at Yad Eliyahu after having fallen three previous times, however they did win the Israel State Cup back in February at the arena.
Andy Van Vliet, Chinanu Onuaku and Quinton Hooker got things rolling for Herzliya in the first quarter while Shawn Dawson got busy in the second quarter to give the visitors a 48-39 lead at halftime. Chris Babb and Maurice Kemp gave Aharoni’s team a solid 1-2 punch in the third period as Scottie Wilbekin tried in vain to keep Avi Even’s squad in the game but it was not to be as Herzliya punched their ticket to the finals where they will play the winner of the other semifinal series between Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Holon.
Onuaku led the way with a superb performance of 25 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists, Kemp added 16 points, Babb scored 15 points, Dawson put in 14 points and Van Vliet chipped in with 13 points in the win. Wilbekin paced Maccabi with 22 points, Keenan Evans added 14 points and Roman Sorkin scored 11 points in the loss.
“I said before the game that a team like us had to be ready mentally after the game two win in Herzliya,” Herzliya coach Oren Aharoni said. “I’m so proud as to how we won and what we did as a team. Maccabi is a great team at home but the credit goes to my staff, players and the club. We played exceptionally this game to move on to the finals.”
“I’m very disappointed to have to end the season like this,” Maccabi’s interim coach Avi Even said. “Unfortunately we didn’t come to play as we should have for a game like this. It was a season with lots of ups and downs. We didn’t have consistency and while we had some great games in the Euroleague but we also lost in the Cup semifinals and now in a playoff series.”
Herzliya’s star guard Chris Babb reflected on the win, “This is another piece of history for our club. So it’s great that we can give our club and fans something to be proud of. We still have another huge series coming up that we have to be focused for.”
Jake Cohen also spoke about the game from his point of view, “We didn’t play very well, except maybe a few quarters in the first game. Herzilya played very well and we didn’t so it’s hard to argue about the result. I feel pretty badly about it and we let a lot of people down. We got what we deserved.”
Ante Zizic scored inside for Maccabi Tel Aviv while Quinton Hooker went from the outside for Bnei Herzliya to open up the game, Keenan Evans did the and at the other end, Andy Van Vliet responded by dropping a 3-point play, Scottie Wilbekin put in a reverse layup but Van Vliet came back with a triple to give the visitors a 9-7 lead midway through the first quarter. Derrick Williams dished off to Roman Sorkin for a dunk, Wilbekin hit a jumper, Van Vliet found points in the paint, Maurice Kemp scored, Chinanu Onuaku did the same as did Chris Babb and Hooker went deep to give Oren Aharoni’s team a 26-18 lead after ten minutes of play.
Shawn Dawson got the second quarter underway with a basket while Evans answered at the other end, Dawson put in an acrobatic layup while Wilbekin scored for Avi Even’s team but Herzliya stayed in front 34-22 with 6:04 left in the first half. John Dibartolomeo scored under the basket, Babb beat his defender off the baseline for a layup, Zizic came back with points, Onuaku did the same, Wilbekin scored but so did Onuaku once again and then added a 3-point play for good measure to give the visitors a 48-39 lead at halftime.
Wilbekin began the third quarter with a 3-pointer, Sandy Cohen responded, Babb dialled up long distance for a pair of 3-pointers and then added an off balance layup to give Herzliya a 58-45 lead midway through the period. Yair Kravitz went to the hoop for an easy deuce, Van Vliet added a 3-point play, Onuaku scored, Zizic did as well, Kemp came back with three straight buckets to go up 72-55 after thirty minutes of action.
Van Vliet scored under the basket to start off the fourth quarter, Dawson went from downtown, as did Nunnally and Evans at the other end but Herzliya kept a comfortable 82-63 lead with 6:04 remaining in regulation time. Derrick Williams dialled up long distance, Onuaku scored in the paint, Wilbekin scored for Maccabi but it as too little, too late as the rout was on and Herzliya wrapped up the game and the series.