Kiryat Ata wins stunner at Maccabi Ramat Gan to snatch home court advantage

May 28, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Kiryat Ata had a 95-94 victory over Maccabi Ironi Ramat Gan away on Tuesday to give them a 1-0 lead in their best of five quarterfinal series.

Prior to the game, Ramat Gan guard Jordan Cohen, was presented with the Winner League’s Sixth Player of the Season. Cohen had a breakout season, averaging 11 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 25.3 minutes per game in 26 games, of which he started 11. His play throughout the season also earned him a spot in his team’s starting five in the matchup against Kiryat Ata.

Itay Moskovits – Credit: Ilay Erez

Itay Moskovitz started the scoring with a couple of layups for Ramat Gan, but a 3-pointer to Guy Palatin, a layup to Isaiah Mucius and a pair of 3s to James Batemon gave the visitors an 11-4 lead inside the first few of minutes of play. A long range shot from Cohen, points under the basket from Mangok Mathiang and JP Tokoto, followed by a 3-point play from Captain Adam Ariel gave Ramat Gan a lead for the first time up 16-15 after a little over halfway through the period. The home team threatened to create a sizable lead through buckets to Nuni Omot and Yuval Sznajderman, but a Bateman 3-pointer in the last minute gave him a game-high 9 points at the end of the quarter and Ramat Gan had a 27-22 lead after 10 minutes.

Moskovitz started the second quarter as he started the first, scoring Ramat Gan’s first four points, while down the other end Tomer Porat and Amin Stevens added 5 and 4 points respectively. Back-to-back baskets to Tokoto gave Ramat Gan a 40-31 lead after three and a half minutes of play in the quarter and Kiryat Ata coach Sharon Avrahami felt it necessary to call a timeout to try to stop the home team’s momentum. Out of the timeout, Porat and Stevens continued to add points, while Ben Saraf gave off a nice assist to Alia Pruitt to bring the lead back to 43-37, after which Shmulik Brenner called his own timeout.

Mangok Mathiang – Credit: Ilay Erez

Following the timeout the visitors continued to attack on the offensive end but could not make the most of their free throw attempts, with Omot and Saraf together going 1/4 in the space of a minute. While Saraf made a huge block on Mathiang on the defensive end and then backed it up at the other end with a jumpshot, which was followed by a 3-pointer to Pruitt to give the visitors a 49-48 lead just before the main break. Tokoto and Saraf then traded buckets, but a Yahel Melamed offensive rebound and basket gave the home team a 52-51 lead at halftime.

Batemon, Pruitt and Saraf started the half strongly for Kiryat Ata with 3-pointers. When Stevens and Pruitt added baskets, Ramat Gan found itself down 64-58 causing Brenner to call a timeout. Out of the timeout Kiryat Ata continues to play aggressively with a Saraf dunk stretching the lead out further, but Sznajderman stoped the visitors’ momentum with a layup to make sure the deficit remained single-digit at 69-62 halfway through the period. While Kiryat Ata looked better for most of the period, a late 3-pointer to Sznajderman made it a one-possession game with 10 minutes left in regulation, with the visitors leading 76-73.

Nuni Omot – Credit:

Omot opened the scoring for the final period with a 3-pointer to level the scores. While Stevens responded with a basket on the other end, a strong and-one play from Mathiang gave the home side the lead 79-78 for the first time since the beginning of the second half. But a 3-pointer and 3-point play by Batemon on consecutive possessions gave Kiryat Ata an 86-83 lead halfway through the period. A minute later a step-back jumper to Jaret Kaplan with the shot clock expiring followed by a strong layup to Saraf extended the lead to 7 points and Kiryat Ata was threatening to steal home court advantage in the series. Ramat Gan however, refused to give up.

When Cohen hit a 3-pointer and Tokoto followed up with a mid-range jumper on the next possession, the scores were locked at 90-90 with a little over a minute to play. What ultimately separated the teams was a 3-point play to Pruitt inside the last 20 seconds to give the visitors a 95-92 lead. While Cohen scored 2/2 from the penalty with only 7 seconds to go, Ramat Gan was unable to capitalize from the turnover which followed and Kiryat Ata went home with the 1-point victory and 1-0 series lead.

Amin Stevens – Credit:

Stevens (26 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals), Bateman (22 points, 2 rebounds, 7 assists and 1 steal) and Pruitt (19 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks) led the scoring for Kiryat Ata, while Tokoto (17 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists), Omot (17 points and 1 rebound) and Cohen (14 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal) led the scoring for Ramat Gan.

“It was a game like a payoff is meant to be, against a great and deep team,” Avrahami said after the game. “We returned from a double-digit deficit, which was our first mental test. We then controlled the game, but let them get back into it. We showed a lot of character, but we know it’s just the beginning of the series.

Ben Saraf – Credit:

Asked about Saraf, who scored 14 points in his first playoff game, Avrahami responded: “We took a step in the summer that a lot of people said that were crazy to do, to take a 17-year old Israeli guard and only one foreign guard. We’ve relied Ben. I let him take decisions at the end. As a coach, beyond the win and everything else that we’ve achieved this season, there’s nothing better than seeing Ben, Raz [Adam] and other young Israeli players play well – that’s the most fun for me as a coach.”

“We didn’t guard well enough today, especially in the first 15 minutes,” Avrahami continued. “I’m happy that we had 23 assists to and 7 turnovers tonight, which is one of keys for us. We want to improve defensively, but on the other hand we’re playing against a very good team. They have advantages, but if we want to win the next game we will have to play better defense.”

Shmulik Brenner – Credit: Ilay Erez

“We knew it would be a difficult game,” Brenner said post-game. “Their two central players caused damage and we will need to make adjustments on Thursday.”

Of Cohen’s award, Brenner said: “Jordan is important. He has a lot of room for improvement, but he works hard and he deserves all the credit for what he has done this season.”

“It feels good, because that was our goal, to steal one game on the road,” Batemon said after the game. “We know that in the payoffs, the first team to win on the road gets it going. We knew that we had to win here to w in the series. It was big for us and we now need it to roll over into game two.”

James Batemon – Credit:

The win was not only special for Batemon as it was his first career playoff win, but it was also special for him to win with his sister who just arrived in the country in the crowd.

“I want her to go back home and let them know that I’m the best shooter in the family,” Bateman said after shooting 71% from long range. “It felt good. My kid and wife have been back home all season. So it feels good to be with family. It’s also my first playoffs, so having family to be here to witness the win means the world.”

JP Tokoto – Credit: Ilay Erez

“We weren’t tough enough – we let them score 95 points,” said a disappointed Tokoto after the game. “We didn’t play with the intensity that they did. We knew it would be like that and they had it more than us. It’s not about shots or stops – we need to get back in the gym, get on the court, make adjustments and get back into it Thursday.”

Despite the loss, Tokoto was confident that the team will be able to bounce back.

“We’re one of a few teams in the league who had to play with adversity all season. Injuries, new guys in and out and playing different positions. We have a tough team, one of the best in the league, which is why we finished third.”

The teams will now travel north for game two of the series at Kiryat Ata on Thursday (19:00 IDT / 12:00 EDT).

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