Hapoel Jerusalem cruised to a 95-81 win over Maccabi Haifa at the Pais Arena in the Capital City. The Reds went out in front early but Haifa hung around over the course of the first half. But Oded Katash’s squad pulled away in the second half to the 14-point victory.
Idan Zalmanson led the way for Jerusalem with 17 points, J’Covan Brown added 15 points and Tamir Blatt chipped in with 14 points. Scott Suggs was the high scorer for Haifa with 19 points and Roman Sorkin posted another terrific game with 17 points in the defeat.
Jerusalem jumped out to a 9-2 lead as Idan Zalmanson hit a pair of jumpers in the paint but Scott Suggs and Yonatan Mor scored at will from beyond the arc for Haifa. However, sharp shooting from Tamir Blatt and Bar Timor helped Oded Katash’s squad to a 31-23 lead after ten minutes.
Nestor Colmenares and Roman Sorkin tried to dent the Jerusalem lead but points by Suleiman Braimoh, Nimrod Levi and James Feldeine kept the advantage at 9-points 41-32 midway through the the second quarter. But Suggs and Colmenares quickly picked up the pace for the Greens to pull Daniel Seoane’s squad to within 4-points, 51-47 at halftime.
Vargas inched Haifa closer to start the third quarter but triple by James Feldeine and Levi plus a layup by J’Covan Brown kept the Reds is front 64-57 with 4:55 left in the frame. Points by Zalmanson and a rainbow 3-pointer by Blatt bumped up the Jerusalem lead to 72-60 after thirty minutes.
Triples by Blatt and Brown for the Reds opened the fourth quarter but points by Gregory Vargas, Sorkin and Colmenares kept the Greens hanging around. But Zalmanson, Levi and Braimoh polished off the 95-81 victory.
1) Jerusalem coach Oded Katash was not happy with his team’s performance after the Reds disposed of Haifa by 14-points. Why was he unhappy? Because his squad’s defense just didn’t play the way they needed to in the first half. 47 points in twenty minutes was way to much to give up as the hosts buckled down over the second half of play, “We didn’t play defense in the first half and I was not happy with the way we played in a very critical week. I’ll take the win but we have to wake up and make sure we come out with aggressive on Wednesday against AEK in Athens.” The Reds need to bring aggressiveness to the court especially now that Trent Lockett isn’t with the team, “We aren’t in an ideal situation without Trent and we haven’t been able to begin games aggressively. We need to step up and all be a little Trent going forward.”
2) Zalmanson played terrific basketball and went 8/9 from the field absolutely demolishing Haifa inside the paint. The big man has added a dimension to Jerusalem that they didn’t have last season, a center with a soft touch and that’s exactly what Zalmanson has. Of course he complimented his teammates shying away from the credit, “My teammates found me and I was able to convert the points.” Katash had kind words for his center’s performance being short and to the point, “I’ve liked his game all season long and he’s been playing well.” Haifa coach Daniel Seoane was asked about having allowed Zalmanson beat his team, “You have to pick your poison and he’s a great player. We let him shoot the ball as we didn’t what players like Brown, Feldeine or Blatt to beat us. Jerusalem knows how to play and they read everything and don’t make mistakes. They keep their composure and when we were close they still played the same way. They are well coached and credit to them.”
3) Roman Sorkin made sure to show the basketball world that his numbers this year are in fluke and that against a quality team like Jerusalem he can dominate a game and that’s exactly what the youngster did. The 6”10 center played sparingly for the Oregon Ducks between 2014-2018 and although he didn’t make a huge impact on the college circuit, the experience gained playing with future NBA players Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell, Chris Boucher while also going to the NCAA semifinals in 2017 have paid off very nicely. Sorkin can play inside and outside while having the skills to potentially dominate a game, “The coach has helped me improve as a player and we have to continue to work hard. It’s only the middle of the season and we have to focus on our game and our play.”
Hapoel Jerusalem has a huge game on Wednesday night against AEK in Athens in Champions League action as the top two teams in the group will tip off against each other in a contest that may determine who will finish atop the group as the end of the regular season. Last season the Reds ended their regular season campaign in second place behind AEK which ended up seeing Oded Katash’s crew having to play a string Tenerife team who had won the tournament the year before and ended up going to the final falling to eventual champion Bologna. AEK is a good team and also added NBA champion Mario Chalmers who was with Bologna last season. The bottom is that this game in Greece could end up being for all of the marbles. Tamir Blatt spoke about the critical game ahead, “I’m happy that we win but now we have to turn our attention to Wednesday’s game at AEK. This is a very important game as they have many offensive weapons. Trent Lockett’s absence is very evident and he was a crucial piece of our defense while also encouraging all of us. Now each player had to raise their game and do what they need to to fill in the gap until he returns.” Idan Zalmanson chimed in on the upcoming continental clash, “We have to play very very aggressively and we know AEK is very deep with many scorers. They can all play tough.” Finally, Captain Bar Timor also knows what is just over the horizon on Wednesday, “We are well aware that the game on Wednesday is very important.”
James Young played only 15 minutes and scored only two points. Why did he only feature for a quarter hour? Coach Seoane explained, “He didn’t have a good week in practice and he was sick and had a tough time. That’s why could only play 15 minutes tonight.” As a fan I was really hoping to see the James Young who has been averaging 19 points a game in a head to head contest against James Feldeine, but unfortunately that never materialized. Hopefully there will be two more times that we can see them take to the hardwood together down the road.