Coming of Age: Clutch Zoosman leads Maccabi to 91-84 Derby win over Hapoel

Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Hapoel Tel Aviv 91-84 at the Drive In Arena as they painted the city yellow-and-blue while moving their perfect league record to 10-0. Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos has a very short roster with four players unavailable due to injury, but that didn’t stop Israeli swingman Yovel Zoosman from starring just a couple of days removed from the club’s huge Euroleague win over CSKA Moscow. Zoosman scored 15 points to lead Maccabi but nine were bigger than his back to back 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter to give his squad the lead for good.

Elijah Bryant and Tyler Dorsey each scored 14 points while Jake Cohen added 13 points and Deni Avdija chipped in with 11 points in the win. Latavious Williams recorded a double double with 25 points and 12 rebounds and Tomer Ginat scored 18 points in the loss.

Maccabi and Hapoel played back and forth basketball for the opening minutes of the game as Jake Cohen dominated the paint with 8 early points while Latavious Williams and Lenzelle Smith Jr. provided the offense for the Reds. Deni Avdija scored a pair of buckets but Mark Lyons drilled a triple at the buzzer to give Hapoel a 24-22 lead after ten minutes.

Elijah Bryant scored a layup and 3-pointer for the yellow-and-blue, Smith Jr. & Williams countered with baskets of their own while Othello Hunter put home a pair of layups as did Dorsey to give Maccabi a 38-29 lead midway through the frame. Smith Jr. and Tomer Ginat each scored from deep but Bryant continued to drive in the lane and score as Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad took a 50-41 lead into halftime.

Dorsey got the third quarter started off with a triple while Bryant and Cohen added baskets of their own but Williams countered for Hapoel as Maccabi increased their lead to 63-50 with 4:43 remaining in the frame. Ginat and Williams dropped buckets to cut the lead to 7 points, but a Yovel Zoosman layup, free throws form Scottie Wilbekin and a Quincy Acy 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the yellow-and-blue a 72-60 advantage after thirty minutes of action.

Ginat and Jordan Hamilton worked the inside and Lyons the outside to cut the Maccabi lead to 73-68 with 7:37 remaining in regulation time. Lyons drained a long distance triple and Williams scored a put back to pull even at 73-73 as Ginat gave Hapoel a 79-77 lead with 4:21 left in the fourth quarter. But back to back 3-pointers by Zoosman put Maccabi in front for good as they took the Derby 91-84 and moved their league record to a percent 10-0 on the season.

1) Yovel Zoosman has been playing terrific basketball of late as the Israeli star has made important shot after important shot while also playing fabulous defense. Against CSKA Moscow, Zoosman scored 13 crucial points while taking charge in the final minutes and versus Hapoel Tel Aviv on the road he did so once again scoring a pair of triples in crunch time to lead Maccabi to the victory. Zoos is looking more mature by the second and his confidence is sky high, “I’m enjoying the situation and I’m trying to contribute when I can as the coach as given me more responsibility,” explained Zoosman. “I’m feeling more mature in the game I’m playing, I want to make the right move when I can and of course I’ll make mistakes but I want to learn and make sure I don’t make the mistake twice.” Coach Sfairopoulos also commented on what Zoosman has been able to do for the club, “He was and important player from the first moment I came to the team last year. His momentum now is really good and I’m very happy and very proud of not only Zoos but all the other players.”

2) Hapoel Tel Aviv has become a really fun team to watch and one that is looking more and more like their coach Ariel Beit Halachmi. After turning over all of their foreign players over the course of a couple of months, the final piece of the puzzle cams just a couple of weeks ago in Latavious Williams after he was released due to an incident with the fans. But whether it’s Mark Lyons or Lenzelle Smith Jr. or Jordan Hamilton and Williams, the Reds are relevant once again and that’s really good. The league needs a strong Hapoel and one that is competitive and that’s exactly what they have become. “We are very disappointed as we could gave done something against Maccabi. Some say that they had many players out, but they still had plenty of quality. I feel that this was a missed opportunity,” said a disappointed Beit Halachmi. He’s certainly correct that they could have done something as they were very close and Tomer Ginat made sure we all understood who the Reds were facing, “We have to remember who we are playing against, one of the best teams in Europe.”

3) Coach Sfairopoulos managed a nearly perfect game on the road in a tough environment less than 48 hours after the Yellow & Blue shocked CSKA Moscow and that’s not easy to do. With just 8 regulars, he was able to make the most of his players and find the right lineups time and time again to compensate for the lack of professional players. In fact, if you looked to the end of the bench you could have a starting 5 plus a 6th man ready to go as Omri Casspi, Nate Wolters, John DiBartolomeo, Tarik Black, Angelo Caloiaro and Sandy Cohen III all looked on. “Big win for us considering all of the absences and we had a very demanding game two days ago,” said Sfairopoulos. “To play the derby with high intensity and energy, it’s very difficult to keep your Mindset after for these types of games (against CSKA) and we had to show extra power. I’m really proud of how we fought and how we played. We had a small rotation and we didn’t have a lot of alternatives.” Although the coach said on Thursday that the word “tired” isn’t in his dictations Ray, it found its way into it on Saturday night when Hapoel made a big fun to start the final frame and take the lead, “We were tired in the fourth quarter and we started to be fatigued. Hapoel were fighting on their home court and they are an excellent team. But we showed our character when they took a one point lead.”

Latavious Williams is a fantastic player, plain and simple. He’s extremely effective in the paint and can dominate both the offensive and defensive boards as not only has 25 points on 8/10 shooting from the field and going 9/11 from the free throw line, he added a dozen boards, seven of which of the offensive varsity. Hapoel was extremely lucky to be able to sign Williams and he’s been a real find for Beit Halachmi’s team, “He’s really an asset and we’re very glad to have him. He is a very good person and he’s putting in his numbers quietly each and every game.” Ginat who has carried the rebounding burden for the team over the past couple of years now has someone that can help him out in Williams and he’s certainly content about that, “He gives us presence in the paint and we can rely on his rebounding. He is a very positive person who gives it all in practice and on the court during the game.”

Dori Sahar at just 18 years old played almost five minutes and scored a couple of points in the win. When he put the ball in the basket, the entire Maccabi bench went wild with excitement and rightfully so. I was able to see his first Israeli League minutes last year in Nahariya and I’ve been following his progress when he gets the chance to play. In this case he received important first half minutes in a Derby, the dream of any teenager for sure. “Dori Sahar was very important. To play in a derby is very difficult. But I’m proud that the young guys took part in the preparation and in the win,” said Sfairopoulos, Zoosman who was in Sahar’s shoes not long ago also reflected on his performance, “He’s just 18 years old and playing in a full arena in a Derby. But he was mature and the staff told all of the youngsters to be ready. I’m happy for them.”

They Said It…

Tomer Ginat – “We played the second half the way we should have played the whole game. We didn’t start off well and had very little energy in the first half.”

Ariel Beit Halachmi – “We made one major mistake when we left Zoosman open in the corner.”

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – “Deni was important putting his body into game, Jake Cohen stepped up, Acy gave his all, they are all fighters and winners. Bryant shows good character and is a winner.”

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