Hapoel Holon downed Nahariya 86-78 at the Toto Arena in Holon as the hosts moved to 8-7 in Israeli league play. Stefanos Dedas’s team used a 14-3 run to end the first half along with 28 points from Marcus Foster to take the win. TJ Cline added 17 points while Joe Alexander made his season debut with 15 points for Holon in the victory. Diamon Simpson was Nahariya’s high scorer with 20 points and Dominic Waters added 14 points and 9 assists in the defeat.
Visiting Nahariya got off to a hot start thanks to strong inside play by newcomer Diamon Simpson and Itay Segev to go along with fine outside shooting by Dominic Waters. But Marcus Foster, TJ Cline and Joe Alexander who was making his Israeli league return kept Holon close down by a pair of points 23-21 at the end of the first quarter.
Foster continued to score for Stefanos Dedas’s squad while Tony Gaffney and Waters did the same for Danny Franco’s team as the northerners held a 34-32 lead midway through the second quarter. However, Holon’s Ryan Thompson made his mark on the game with back to back baskets including a monster dunk as Guy Pnini hit a triple to send the hosts on a 14-3 run to end the half ahead 46-37.
Cline, Alexander and a 3-pointer by Foster got things underway for Holon in the third quarter as the action began to heat up on the court after Alexander was given a technical foul but Holon stayed ahead 54-41 midway through the frame. But Simpson scored six straight points to close the gap to 64-55 after thirty minutes of play.
Simpson continued to find the bottom of the basket as did Travis Warech but Foster exploded for ten points to give Holon a 76-66 advantage with five minutes remaining in regulation time. Cline hit a floater and Alexander posterized Egor Koulechov as Holon took the 86-78 win.
1) Holon is really clicking under new head coach Stefanos Dedas. The team is looking better and better as each game goes by as the club attempts to erase the poor start to the season. I have been impressed by Dedas from the first game I was able to watch live in person with him on the sidelines which was the 91-84 loss at Hapoel Jerusalem at the end of December. At the time Dedas spoke about bringing the team’s confidence level back up and that was the first task at hand. Well that has definitely occurred as Holon is now 8-7 in league play plus have a chance to qualify for the next round of the Champions League as well, not that it will be easy, but they have a punchers chance with two of the remaining three games on the road. It just shows you how big of an effect the mental side of the game has on a team and their players. Holon is putting in 150% on the court and with the addition of Joe Alexander and the return of Rich Howell, the skies the limit. Holon had lost to Nahariya at home in State Cup play and that was a loss that was definitely sitting on the players’ heads. But as Dedas explained, the team has to be ready to avenge such a loss with the proper mental state and game plan, “We prepared mentally for this game. To get revenge is one part but how you play is the other part. They came out and wanted it to much and you have to win these types of games defensively. What happened, happened and we can only look into the future.”
2) Holon frustrated the Nahariya guards, Dominic Waters and Jerel McNeal and definitely threw Waters off of his game as has been seen a number of times this season. I like Waters and his fire, but sometimes the intensity may get the best of him. Dedas understood this and looked to close down the outside while allowing the big men inside the chance to score without double teaming, “We tried to give a lot of possessions to their bigs in the paint and live with this. We wanted to keep the ball out of their guard’s hands. We controlled Jerel McNeal and Dominic Waters to only 22 points and they average 30, when they win they score 37/38 points.” No question that Dedas and his staff did their homework well and were able to implement their game plan to perfection.
3) Joe Alexander made his Israeli league debut for the 2019/20 season. The forward recently returned from a half a season in France and his impact was felt immediately. Alexander was part of the 2017/18 Holon squad that defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv in the State Cup Final and that fell to the Yellow & Blue in the Israeli League Final Four. The 8th pick overall in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks brings a veteran presence, poise and hunger immediately to a team that is still trying to build its identity around Coach Dedas. “We’re satisfied that we are turning a new page in the season and expectations as a team,” explained Alexander. “There is no team that can compare to the Holon team that I was on from a couple of years ago. But this team has a unique flavor as well.” The big man also told me that he came here to take this team back to the top where Holon belongs and make it into a contender once again. He definitely won’t be satisfied by hanging around the middle of the standings.
Marcus Foster has been fabulous this season for Holon averaging over 20 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists a game. The Wichita Falls, Texas native has been improving his play game by game and is looking like he will be a star here in Israel. I spoke to Foster following the game and will have a longer piece coning out ahead of Holon’s Champions League game at Manresa but he did say this about the team’s victory and his MVP performance, “Anytime I score like that and get the win, then it’s a big win for us and I am happy about it.” Stay tuned for more!