Hapoel Tel Aviv downed a game Maccabi Ramat Gan 88-83 in throughly entertaining game that saw plenty of end to end action, lots of high flying dunks along with the return of two Reds to the Drive In as JP Tokoto and Adam Ariel looked to make their presence felt back on a familiar court. While Tokoto rose to the occasion with 18 points including a super duper 360 dunk right by the Hapoel bench, Ariel struggled from the field all game long with a lone 3-pointer going 1/7 from deep.
Shmulik Brenner’s crew didn’t break and while Danny Franco’s squad kept building up a lead, Ramat Gan found a way to come back time and time again frustrating the Reds primarily with Jaylen Hoard being the prime culprit scoring and dunking at will. At the end of the day, Hapoel’s quality was just too much for Ramat Gan as they moved into the Winner Cup semifinals where they will play the winner of the Maccabi Tel Aviv and Kiryat Ata quarterfinal matchup.
Hoard led the way with 23 points, Tomer Ginat added 14 points and Bar Timor chipped in with 13 points in the win. Kendale McCullum scored 20 points while Tokoto and Alston each dropped 18 points in the defeat.
It was clear that both JP Tokoto and Adam Ariel wanted to make an impact for their new team right from the get go as they returned to their former home court in search of some sort of salivation from the previous season with Hapoel Tel Aviv.
With that in mind, Maccabi Ramat Gan got busy early on as Tokoto scored the first basket of the game, while Kendale McCullum glided to the hoop for a layup and Phil Greene went from beyond the arc to give Shmulik Brenner’s squad a 11-8 lead midway through the opening frame. Tomer Ginat began to score at will, Bar Timor went from deep and Idan Zalmanson scored over Benayahu Srur to give Hapoel Tel Aviv a 20-18 lead after ten minutes of play.
The fans gave Tokoto a hero’s welcome as he stepped foot onto the Drive In court during the pregame warmups, however, Ariel wasn’t greeted with the same enthusiasm as the guard looked for his spots in the court to do damage from deep. But that wasn’t going to be the case as Jaylen Hoard, his former teammate was the one who danced around the hoop with a dunk and a deuce, J’Covan Brown did what J’Covan Brown does as he swished a 3-pointer to give Danny Franco’s squad a 10-point, 28-18 lead with 6:39 left in the first half.
Justin Alston and Jordan Cohen finally put points up on the board for Ramat Gan in the second quarter but Braian Angola did as well for his first basket for the reds, Idan Zalmanson and Ginat scored inside while Xavier Munford went from downtown to bump the Hapoel lead up to 46-32 at halftime.
Hapoel’s new owner Ofer Yanai was spotted sitting mid-court in the first row checking out his latest acquisition just like a youngster getting a shiny red firetruck for his birthday as he made the rounds at halftime. But Yanai, the Nofar energy mogul didn’t need to inject any fire and brimstone into the fans as they continued to cheer the club on at full strength.
Tokoto and Ariel came out of the break with a renewed sense of hope as they began to fill the basket but Brown and Munford kept Hapoel in front 53-43 midway through the third quarter. McCullum hit a triple and Tokoto nailed a long range two to keep Ramat Gan hanging around while Alston and Cohen pulled their team even but Hoard with a quartet of clutch baskets kept the Reds ahead 66-62 after thirty minutes of action.
Hoard was the biggest beneficiary of star center Chinanu Onuaku’s departure as the French bigman will now take over inside and be the recipient of many balls in the paint. There’s no question that the former Portland Trailblazer and Oklahoma City Thunder frontman will be an integral part of Danny Franco’s offense this coming campaign and he showed his worth time and time again.
Alston and Greene once again evened us the score early in the fourth quarter but Hoard was there again with a pair of free throws and a bucket move Hapoel back into the lead, while Timor and Angola brought the lead back up to double digits. But McCullum and Alston along with a 360 dunk from Tokoto right in front of the Hapoel bench brought Ramat Gan right back into the game.
Hapoel, feeling the heat allowed Cohen and McCullum to go from long distance to close the game to just a pair of points with two minutes to go, but Angola and Munford put the hammer down to finish the game off an wrap up the victory.