Onuaku – Herzliya’s force to be reckoned with helps club take State Cup

Feb 18, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

Bnei Herzliya is the best team in Israel, plain and simple. After capturing the State Cup with a 87-82 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv they have put all of the critics to rest after their hot start that sees them in first place in domestic league action.

Oren Aharoni has run a tight ship since taking over at the helm and on the bench while general manager Zufer Avdija did a superb job in finding the right players for the team which has developed into a really well oiled machine. With five imports and a solid trip of Israelis, Herzliya was able to outplay Danny Franco’s Red squad while bringing joy to their fans in what was a close and tight battle all the way until the final buzzer.

Chinanu Onuaku – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Hapoel may have shot out to an early lead thanks to the ever present J’Covan Brown, NBA first round pick James Young and JP Tokoto, Herzliya was able to fight back despite a poor shooting display over the first half as Chinanu Onukau and Shawn Dawson took the challenge and cut the advantage to 39-37 after twenty minutes.

Both squads traded buckets in a back and forth third quarter which finally saw the two teams hit shot after shot from deep, but with the score 79-77 for Hapoel and 3:44 left in the final frame, Chris Babb, Quinton Hooker, Dawson and of course Onuaku ripped off a 10-0 run to capture the annually presented trophy.

Onuaku, a force to be reckoned with, had a tremendous game scoring 30 points, grabbing 17 rebounds and notching an unbelievable 50 efficiency rating to lead Aharoni’s squad and over the course of the game the one time Houston Rockets big man was trouble play after play for Franco’s men to stop. There was no stopping the Louisville product who did as he pleased every single second he was on the floor. So much so the referees who we will get to in a bit gave him a little but way too much respect.

Chinanu Onuaku – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The Lanham, Maryland native stands at 6”9, 245 pounds and used every inch and pound to make his presence felt in a performance that reverberated around the continent.

“In both the semifinals and final, he made some great clutch shots,” Aharoni said about Onuaku after the game whole sitting right next to the shiny trophy. “He had a couple of great games and his physicality is phenomenal. I put him up there with the best centers that have played here in Israel. His basketball sense and how he can read plays is extraordinary. He’s a special player both on and off of the court, he’s a point center and an anchor for us.”

While Onuaku did what he pleased down low in the paint while also hitting 10/13 free throws which he shoots underhanded, there was no question that he was the key player in this win, “He’s a dominant force and a great passer for big man and he really held it down for us, explained Sandy Cohen who won his second State Cup title in a row after capturing the Cup last year with Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Chinanu Onuaku – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The unstoppable force which is Onuaku played the past couple of seasons in Croatia and South Korea where he won a variety of titles and personal awards but this season, as he is averaging a double-double of 14.9 points and 10.4 rebounds is the one that has opened the eyes up of many basketball executives around Europe.

Maccabi Tel Aviv is already looking at how they will be able to sign Onuaku for next season whose older brother Arinze once played for the yellow-and-blue. It’s clear that the little big man has the talent and ability to find his way into the Euroleague sooner rather than later and also make an impact at that level of play.

Onuaku is also fully aware that it will take continued hard work to be able to reach that level and before he even considers where he may be playing next season, he knows that there is still plenty for his first place team to play for.

Chinanu Onuaku – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“We fell into a deficit but we knew how to handle that by using our defense which led us to the win. I just want to play my game and my teammates found me. No one could stop me. It’s great to play under coach Aharoni and I believe that we can also win the league title,” the center said after winning the Cup.

While Herzliya deservedly won the State Cup helped by the 10-0 run as the game came to its end, the referees didn’t do themselves any favors by calling an extremely inefficient and extremely poor game. At one point near the end of the first half, Hapoel has already been charged with 18 fouls to just 6 by Herzliya which was almost criminal.

This is not to say that had the fouls not been called so lopsidedly for Herzliya that Hapoel wild have won the title. Aharoni’s team won it fair and square, but the damage to Franco’s game plan had been done with James Young picking up his 4th foul early in the third quarter while Idan Zalamnson also was in foul trouble that certainly caused some issues for the Reds.

James Young – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“I wasn’t happy with the decision of referees who were going to officiate even prior to the game itself,” Franco said. “There was an astronomical gap between the two teams in fouls called. Everyone saw what went on. Hapoel Tel Aviv is a big club and the way we were treated was not inline with that. I am angry at the Israel Basketball Association but now is not the time to deal with this. What needs to be dealt with will be dealt with.”

While Franco’s tough feelings about the officiating are justified as the referee associate has since admitted to a poorly officiated game and that they will meet in the coming week to discuss future steps if any, the Reds bench boss credited his opponent on the victory.

“Herzliya gets all of the credit. When we were up by two points we gave up two 3-poinetrs and we had to respond. We tried and did what we could do, but it wasn’t enough. We made some mistakes on the court and Herzliya hurt us as they are a very good team but we are a good team too.”

Danny Franco – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

While Aharoni said it was back to the gym for practice on Friday as they have a game at Hapoel Haifa on Sunday, Franco will now have to lift his guys off of the mat and get them mentally back into game shape as they have a tricky date at Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion.

“We’re all disappointed and that is natural as we are all human beings,” Franco said. “We will have to pick ourselves up and we know what type of potential we have. We have to get out of this funk very quickly and get ourselves right back to where we had been immediately after the National Team break where we cane return with renewed energy to go forward.”

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