Bnei Herzliya have been giant slayers so to speak this season having won all of their league game against the likes of Hapoel Holon, Hapoel Jerusalem and now Maccabi Tel Aviv as they took down the Euroleague club 98-93 in overtime. For one reason or another Oren Aharoni’s squad gets up for the games that make a difference, for the players and for the club and the win over the Yellow & Blue was also their first in quite some time in Israeli league play. In fact, the last time they tested victory was back on October 23rd, close to two months ago.
One of the primary reasons Herzliya was off to such a poor start was the fact that Quinton Hooker went down with an injury which left the team without a point guard to direct the traffic and lead the offense. Sure they tried numerous players in that spot, but at the end of the day Briante Weber and Stephen Thompson were not the solution as Herzliya dropped to 2-6 before the win over Maccabi.
There’s no question that Herzliya has talent and lost some games that they should have won, with or without Hooker, but when they are focused they were last night, Aharoni and his team know full well what they are capable of especially with their floor general back in action.
“We are a good team that lost some confidence, but to come in here and win a game against Maccabi is very important. We had to play without Hooker and he was a barometer for us and we saw that as to how well he played here in this game.”
While he departed Yad Eliyahu following the game, Hooker was all smiles but so was Maurice Kemp who looks to have been one of the main beneficiaries of the point guard’s return to the court at both ends of the floor the forward explained, “Our defense you know, we were more cohesive with better communication, more focus. It was a good bounce back for us after we were really disappointed with how we performed for the last month or so, I feel like I let my team down last game. Glad we did it tonight.”
Chris Babb was also a key player in this game and looked like the Babb of old, with his stealth shooting and killer instinct that Herzliya saw all through last season when they won the State Cup and made their way to the League finals after knocking off Maccabi in the semifinals.
“We showed the caliber of team that we can be when we play hard and compete and limit teams to one shot, it was a good step for us to show what this team is capable of. I made some shots and I try to play the same no matter if I’m missing shots I know that they will start dropping in. Maurice played really well in the first half and kept us in the game and I was able to come in and play well in the second half.”
Kemp felt that by following the game plan was key to the win as they stayed level headed throughout the contest, “Coach said stick to our game and we will be all right. We did not let the emotions of the game get the best of us and it worked out.”
Aharoni who was fairly even keeled following the game after having been rumored to be departing the club a few weeks earlier understands that when things head south and things go wrong, that can end up creating a snowball effect.
“There’s no question when the losses come you lose confidence as a coach as well and as a club. We did the right things though and there is no question that the tough times we experienced in a way woke us up in time.”
While Herzliya is almost the same team as they were last season save for the departure of the reining Israeli League MVP Chinanu Onukau who after a pit stop in Italy is back in Israel but with Hapoel Tel Aviv, Kemp thinks that if the team remains on target then they should be fine going forward.
“We have the same team like last year aside from Chief and we have a different big man. We know each other best. We lock in and stay together, not let the ups and downs of the season get to us. We locked in on our mission.”
Over at the other end of the court, Macccabi Tel Aviv and their head coach Oded Katash will have to lick their wounds and ready for a pivotal Euroleague Double Week with a lot of food for thought after his squad began the game flat as a pancake.
“We didn’t have focus and aggressiveness at the start of the game and that’s always been a battle for us. One could see it from the get go and I don’t want to take away the credit from Herzliya who started well. We have to look at how we as a staff can improve and expand the rotation. We played very laid back and this is what occurred.”
Jalen Adams who led the Yellow & Blue attack couldn’t put a finger on why the team came out slow and sluggish as Herzliya grabbed a 21-9 lead after ten minutes, “I don’t know, we have a habit of doing that and we have to find a way to bring energy and win the first five minutes of the quarter.”
Katash who mentioned trying to expand the rotation had a prime opportunity to do so after Iftach Ziv scored 19 points in the last Israeli league game and did not dress against Valencia. However, the bench boss saw fit to only play the guard under 8 minutes in a game that lasted 45 without an injured Wade Baldwin who will be on the shelf for what will probably be a month. As rumors have been swirling about Ziv’s imminent future, the Maccabi coach looked at him as being an important piece of the puzzle, “It’s not something that I have heard of (rumors) and Iftach is a player on this team. He’s important even more so now that we lost Wade.”
One point that left something to be desired for Katash was the way his team reacted throughout the game and is something of a serious concern, “Aside from the basketball itself, the body language of some of the players was worrying. We will discuss that but we also started the team from nothing in the off season and we are still in the process of building a hierarchy and dynamic within the lockerroom and it takes time to come together. We wouldn’t have won the games that we did had we not been positive and had good body language.”
“You can see across Europe that you can win the Euroleague but then lose in the domestic league. In order to improve as we are in the midst of this crazy schedule is to know how to do that together. When you win it’s a lot easier to be positive and have good body language and continue to fight. We aren’t the only team which is inconsistent. But what will keep us together is positivity and that is where I am putting a lot of emphasis.”
While Maccabi still struggles to find its identity one player who is only on a short term contract with the club is the aforementioned Adams. The guard has been excellent in the domestic league due to the fact that he played with Hapoel Jerusalem last season, but he has still yet found his place in the Euroleague which is a big step up from the Basketball Champions League.
Will he stay or will he go is still up for debate as he has yet to hear from the Yellow & Blue about the plans for him after his contract expires. But it certainly seems that he would be very open to remaining in the Holy Land as he also offered his own thoughts as to what the squad must do in order to succeed.
“I don’t think that there are any talks but I’d love to be here. Tel Aviv is a beautiful city and team plus the crazy culture of the fans and this group of guys I love them. I have great relationships, we have a really good team but we have to believe that within ourselves.”