1) Elijah Bryant very quietly had an excellent game for Maccabi. If you look at the stat sheet you’ll see just 2 points in 20 minutes, 2 steals, 2 assists and a -2 efficiency rating, but you’ll also see a whopping +18, the best on the team. The former Eilat guard in fact wasn’t registered for the game against Jerusalem earlier in the week and played under 4 minutes last Euroleague game against Valencia but came out and played top level lock down defense for the Yellow & Blue and was a huge part in helping coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s squad to a 41-21 halftime lead. “If you see the plus/minus ranking Elijah had a +18 which was the best on the team,” Sfairpoulos excitedly told me following the game. “I think he has a big future ahead. He is getting Euroleague experience now after we watched him last year. His defense is unbelievable. Last year he was mainly scoring and this year he adjusted to our style and philosophy which is to play good defense first and then score. I think every week and month that goes by he will get better and better.”
2) Defense was the key to victory over Fenerbahce as Maccabi came out like a team on a mission in the first half and absolutely decimated Zeljko Obradovic’s team and hit them before they could even react. It should also be noted that every single possession is worth gold in the Euroleague and that’s on both sides of the floor, “The players put in a big effort on defense and offense,” explained Sfairopoulos. “In the first half we had an excellent defensive display and that helped our offense in the second quarter.” Nate Wolters also chimed in, “Every possession is huge. That was our focus and we got to fight each and every one. We knew they would be desperate and we gave them our best shot. This was a big win and we played really well defensively. When you play good defense it gives you confidence on offense.” Bryant said the following about the victory and the squad’s defensive showing, “This was a good quality team win and any Euroleague win is big. It’s a lot different than the Israeli league when I played with Eilat last season. Every possession counts and there’s the emphasis on defense. If a team can’t score you can win and it’s helping us win games. It all starts with stops and defense.” Finally, Deni Avdija also had this to say about the club’s D, “The coach likes defense and our defense looks great. The guys play defense with their hearts and it shows on the court.”
3) Maccabi Tel Aviv’s free throw shooting was abysmal to say the least going 15/27 and the team could have easily given away the game on the line. Big man Tarik Black went 6/11 from the charity stripe but did score 10 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for a tidy double double. Coach Sfairopoulos explained why perhaps the percentage was lower than usual, “When you fight for every ball going body to body with high intensity, it’s not easy to shoot free throws with the calmness and quietness to have great percentages. When you fight for the ball it’s not easy to go and shoot free throws and in the case today, one is going from wrestling and fighting to painting which is not easy. There are days with less intensity, less contact and less physicality where you can shoot 70-80%. Today we shot 55% but any close game and a game with a lot of pressure will make free throws tougher, but we need to shoot better.” Black spoke about his free throws as he was leaving the arena, “I had a tough time at the line and it was one of the worst games in my career. I’ll work hard and continue to improve.”
There’s no question that Fenerbahce is going through a ton of issues as they try to get out of the current rut that they are in. Coach Obradovic has an all star studded squad but one thing that is missing are the players that are going to do the dirty work. Last season Fener had players like Nicolo Melli, Marko Guduric and a fit Nikola Kalinic at their disposal. While Derrick Williams and Nando De Colo are terrific scorers, there’s got to be some players who are mucking it up for the team. “You have watched these players,” said Obradovic. “You know them. I believe that this is not their level. It’s something on the coach. It’s my job that they play better. Every one of them. This is my team and these are my players. I will always stay with them and I’ll continue to trust them.” Coach Sfairpoulos also talked about the Turkish club’s current struggles, “They are not playing with good momentum and they had 4 games away with only one game at home. It’s very hard to win away as all of the teams have quality. Fener has the quality to win on any court and I think we played great defense. In fact, this was the best game we played defensively since I arrived, we can’t win big games and titles just from offense.”
Hapoel Jerusalem downed Rasta Vechta 98-87 to open up their Champions League campaign 3-0. James Feldeine led the way for the Reds with 25 points going 6/9 from beyond the arc while J’Covan Brown went for 19 points and Tamir Blatt clocked in with 12 points and 9 assists.
Nes Ziona moved to 2-0 in Europe Cup play as they defeated Keravnos 87-78 thanks to a Jeff Withey double double of 19 points and 14 boards, 18 points from Corey Fisher, 13 points from Jeremy Hollowell and a dozen from veteran guard Raviv Limonad.
Hapoel Holon dropped Torun 122-105 in Champions League play for their first continental win of the season. Marcus Foster 22p, Amit Simhon 19p, Latavious Williams 18p for HOL.
Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion fell to Ulm 103-89 in EuroCup Action. Jordan Swing 20p, Johnathan Hamilton 18p, Oz Blayzer 15p, Fredric Bourdillon 17p for MR. Zoran Dragic 33p, Killian Hayes 15p/9a for ULM.