Maccabi Tel Aviv downed Bnei Herzliya 82-76 to take game one of their best of three semifinal series. The two squads went back and forth over the course of the first half with Scottie Wilbekin and Chinanu Onuaku leading the offensive charge for their respective teams as the visitors grabbed a 45-41 lead at halftime. But the yellow-and-blue clamped down on defense over the third and fourth quarters as Keenan Evans and James Nunnally helped sew up the win for Avi Even’s squad. Maccabi will now look to sweep as the series moves to Herzliya’s home court on Sunday night.
Wilbekin paced Maccabi with 24 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, Derrick Williams added 14 points, Evans scored 12 points and Nunnally chipped in with 11 points in the victory. Onuaku scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, Maurice Kemp scored 17 points and Chris Babb added 8 points in the loss.
“I’m happy that we protected home court,” Avi Even began. “We didn’t have a good overall game defensively but we did in the second half and played well. We now have to look ah3ad to Sunday night. We have to be more focussed and sharper in oder to take the win.
“We played well on both sides of the ball,” a disappointed Aharoni said. “But we didn’t start well in the third quarter and our offense got stuck. We didn’t shoot well from deep and those minutes in the third quarter allowed Maccabi to widen the gap and it was tough for us to come back.”
Veteran Israeli forward Jake Cohen spoke about the game from his point of view, “I’m very pleased with how we played the second half. It was an important start in a three game series and we are now prepared to play well in game two. We made good defensive adjustments and applied pressure in the second half and when you do so it puts you in a very good position to win.”
Herzliya captain Yair Kravitz also looked back at the game that was, “We didn’t hit our shots tonight but our defense was fine. We have to look at the video and we had a bad day on the attack but we stayed close to Maccabi throughout the game which is a positive.”
Keenan Evans and a revitalised Ante Zizic opened the scoring for Maccabi Tel Aviv while Chinanu Onuaku and Andy Van Vliet did the same for Bnei Herzliya, Scottie Wilbekin and Derrick Williams each went from deep to give the hosts a 13-6 lead midway through the first quarter. Onuaku scored a pair of baskets inside, Wilbekin went from downtown and added a left handed floater, Chris Babb responded as did Quinton Hooker, Maurice Kemp and Shawn Dawson all scored to pull to within 2-points, 25-23 after ten minutes of play.
Onuaku scored a pair of baskets for Oren Aharoni’s squad to begin the second quarter, John Dibartolomeo scored from the outside and the inside, Kemp answered as the two teams were all knotted up at 31-31 with 6:35 left in the first half. Onuaku scored again inside, Williams went from deep, Yair Kravitz cleaned up a missed attempt from long distance, Hooker scored an off balance shot, Wilbekin went from downtown, Onuaku did the same for Herzliya to grab the lead as Jake Cohen scored a pair of points at the buzzer to cut the advantage to 45-41 at halftime.
Evans got the third quarter underway with a 3-point play and then drilled home a triple, Van Vliet dialled up long distance, Sandy Cohen and Wilbekin traded buckets, Onuaku scored in the paint as did Evans as the scored was all tied up at 53-53 midway through the frame. Wilbekin put in a 4-point play, Williams hit a turn around jumper, Kemp responded as did Onuaku, James Nunnally swished a 3-pointer but quick baskets by Wilbekin and Evans gave Avi Even’s team a 69-62 lead after thirty minutes of action as the home fans sang to their delight.
Kemp and Sorkin traded baskets to begin the fourth quarter, Sandy Cohen added points inside as did Zizic and Nunnally as Maccabi stayed in front 76-68 with 5:38 left in regulation time. Nunnally scored a 3-point play and Wilbekin put in a free throw to wrap up the game one win.