Maccabi squeaks by Eilat 85-83; readies for Rishon in Final


1) Scottie Wilbekin took over and made his mark on the game; from the first quarter all the way to the final play of the contest when he stuck his long arm in and knocked the ball away from an attempted inbounds pass to Elijah Bryant. Give him credit where credit is due, #1 played his heart out and led Maccabi when they needed it most. Wilbekin missed some big shots early on in the Euroleague season but came up big against Olympiakos and showed that he’s the Yellow & Blue’s number 1 go to guy. When it comes to big games, big players always seem to show up, whether it’s Eran Zahavi for Israel, Kawhi Leonard for the Raptors or Scottie Wilbekin for Maccabi Tel Aviv. “Scottie is one of our go to guys,” explained Captain John DiBartolomeo. “Tonight he was amazing. He was able to control the game and he really pulled it off for us.” Wilbekin himself was a bit modest as to how his performance unfolded, “They (Eilat) were switching a lot. A lot of our movement on the pick and roll was taken away which led to more one on one play. When I’m feeling it or when someone else is feeling it, they have to be aggressive and press to try to get something going for the team and that’s what I was trying to do.”

2) Yovel Zoosman quietly has a tremendous game in close to 21 minutes. The 2019 NBA Draft eligible Israeli went a cool 4/4 from the line but his two clutch free throws with 8 seconds left were just juts that, clutch. The 21-year old showed the poise of a wily veteran and drained the pair of freebies absolutely perfectly just as he did when he was on the line in Ashdod months ago to seal a win by the port city. Zoos has continued to mature and we saw that in the quarterfinal series against Hapoel Tel Aviv and again versus Eilat in money, money, money time. “It’s been fun to see his growth,” commented DiBartolomeo. “Not just from a talent a level, He has the tools to go very far in his career and I’m happy for him. He’s going in the right direction both physically and mentally.” Coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos also looked at not only Zoosman’s play but the team as a whole, “I’m very proud of my players. They are fighters and it’s not easy to play these games when there is so much pressure. I said in the locker room that whoever played in this game was very important and I told them that Deni Avdija (who only played less than a minute but pulled down a rebound that helped Maccabi take a 5 point lead into halftime instead of a 3 point advantage) who played good defense and helped us stop Eilat and on the other side we scored which ended up being a 4 point play.“

3) Avi Ben Chimol was silenced by the Maccabi defense all night long. The Yellow & Blue gave him special treatment for the 38+ minutes he was out on the floor and held the veteran to only 1 assist and 5 points. Ben Chimol who won a Euroleague title with the Yellow & Blue in his rookie season of 2003/04 and then okayed for 8 more Israeli league teams; in other words he’s been well travelled. This season however, he was just fabulous leading the league in assists with 7.8 per game while also making his first all-star game. To top that off he also featured for the National Team for a number of games under head coach Oded Katash as well. Ben Chimol spoke about his time on the court, “I feel that some of my decisions weren’t right and that’s what is on my head. Of all the places that I have played I feel that Eilat was where I enjoyed the basketball the most. We had a great season despite some of the hardships that we endured. The game ass close and could have gone one way or the other bit that’s sports. But again I’m mad at myself because I couldn’t get the shot that I wanted and I should have made a better decision.”

Dov Halickman Photography

All three of Eilat’s foreign players showed up as JP Tokoto was the main man early on, Suleiman Braimoh joined him in the second quarter while Elijah Bryant began to score in the second half. But it just wasn’t enough on this night to see the southerners through to the final. However, you have to give Sharon Drucker a hand as to how he was able to take such a thin squad all the way to the dying seconds of the semifinal against Maccabi Tel Aviv and that’s no easy feat.

Maccabi Tel Aviv held on to beat Hapoel Eilat 85-83 to advance to the Israel Basketball Winner League Final. The Red Sea side kept the contest close throughout the forty minutes finally bowing out to the yellow-and-blue’s clutch shooting and one Scottie Wilbekin. The guard took Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s team on his back from the get go scoring early and often while dropping 8 of his 21 points in the 4th quarter while also securing the win with a last second steal off an inbounds pass under the basket.

Dov Halickman Photography

Along with Wilbekin’s 21 points he added 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals, Johnny O’Bryant added 15 points and Michael Roll chipped in with 12 points off the bench in the win. JP Tokoto dropped 22 points, Suleiman Braimoh scored 16 points and Elijah Bryant ended his night with 12 points. The yellow-and-blue will now face Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion on Thursday night at Yad Eliyahu at 21:00 for the 2018/19 league championship.

Dov Halickman Photography

The yellow-and-blue got off to a fast start as Wilbekin and Cohen supplied the offense as Black crashed the boards early on in the first quarter. Maccabi’s DeAndre Kane was issued a technical which Sharon Drucker’s Red Sea side took full advantage of the situation as Braimoh and Tokoto pulled Eilat to within 2-points, 22-20 after ten minutes of action.

Dov Halickman Photography

O’Bryant gave Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s squad some breathing room at the beginning of the second quarter but Tokoto and veteran forward Jonathan Skjöldebrand continued to keep Eilat in the game. However, Michael Roll rattled off a couple of clutch jumpers to give Maccabi a 42-37 lead at halftime.

Eilat pulled even at 48-48 on the strength of Braimoh’s free throws and timely buckets by Elijah Bryant midway through the third quarter, but Skjoldebrand picked up his fourth foul sending him to the bench. Wilbekin, John DiBartolomeo and O’Bryant all hit big shots as the quarter neared it’s end but Eilat’s Tokoto and Bryant countered as Maccabi headed into the final frame holding a 60-56 advantage.

Dov Halickman Photography

Just as he did in the second quarter, O’Bryant was on fire extending the Maccabi lead to 70-62 but a Rafi Menco triple and a Braimoh basket kept Eilat in the game with 5:06 remaining and down by only three points, 70-67.

Dov Halickman Photography

The squads traded hoops as the quarter wound down but Wilbekin and Black continued to keep Maccabi on top. Menco hit another 3-pointer with under a minute to go to keep Eilat close and a pair of free throws by Skjoldebrand cut the lead to 83-82 with under 8 seconds left in regulation. Yovel Zoosman drained a pair of free throws while Wilbekin swatted away Eilat’s last gasp effort as Maccabi was able to hold on to record an 85-83 victory to advance to Thursday night’s final.

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