Hapoel Holon defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv 94-86 at Yad Eliyahu to not only move into first place but also send the yellow-and-blue to their first home league loss of the season. Maccabi jumped out to a 30-15 lead after ten minutes of action, but Holon, led by Corey Walden’s 28 points and 7 assists dominated play over the last three quarters to take the season series two games to one. In addition to Walden, Guy Pnini scored 18 points going 4/5 from beyond the arc, while Shawn Jones and Darion Atkins each dropped 13 points in the win. Jeremy Pargo (19 points) and Scottie Wilbekin (14 points) were the only Maccabi players to finish in double digits.
Maccabi took a slim 11-10 lead midway through the first quarter which featured 4 different scorers while Walden and Pnini did the damage for Holon early on. But it was all yellow-and-blue over the last five minutes of the frame as Pargo and Michael Roll turned up the offense to help Coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s squad end the first quarter ahead 30-15.
Holon ripped off a 23-9 run as Walden, Atkins and Pnini scored at will to pull to within one point, 39-38 and forcing Maccabi to call a timeout to regroup. Holon grabbed the advantage with under a minute remaining in the frame, but just as the visitor’s thought they were going to head into halftime with a lead, Jake Cohen stole the ball and scored to keep Maccabi in the ahead 48-47 after twenty minutes of action.
The visitor’s took a 60-55 lead midway through the third quarter as Pnini continued to haunt his former team while the squads traded baskets until the end of the frame sending Holon into the 4th quarter sporting a 68-64 advantage.
Shawn Jones and Pnini extended the Holon lead to 78-69 with 6:39 left in the game as Maccabi continued to cough up the ball. Deni Avdija came on to help Maccabi both offensively and defensively to cut the Holon lead to 89-86 but Walden drilled home another triple to close out the game and take home a 94-86 win.
1) Credit to Corey Walden who is the runaway MVP of the league so far this season. The Holon guard was fantastic yet again finishing the evening with a plus 21 and an efficiency rating of 37 in 30 minutes of action. Whenever Holon needed a big basket, Walden was there. Whether it was when they were down by 15 points or to close out the contest #2 always seemed to have an answer. Holon coach Dan Shamir spoke about what Walden brings to the table for his team, “He is on his way to a top team and they look for players like him. He does it all, from defending to attacking and above all he is a great teammate. He lifts the level of play when the team needs it the most and it means a lot to have a player like him on our team.”
2) When you speak to Corey Walden you never get the sense that he is an up and coming star. He’s cool, confident but most importantly very humble. He goes about doing what he needs to do to help his team win. He spoke about what the keys to the victory were, “Just be aggressive, try not to turnover the ball a lot, stick to the game plan and try not to make silly mistakes. I think this win is good for the team and our confidence going into the rest of the round. We need to take the momentum and carry it into Europe and other Israeli games.” He also spoke about not having TJ Cline available for the game and how everyone stepped up in his absence, “We definitely miss TJ and I hope he gets better soon and comes back fast. I think it came down to us just having to step up. Somebody had to step up and different players had to chip in all across the board. Someone had to make up for what TJ does well and I think we all did that.”
3) Coach Sfairopoulos was livid following the game and made sure to let everyone know that he was not satisfied by his players’ performance against Holon and rightfully so. When he called timeout late in the 3rd quarter you could hear him shrieking at the players in the top rows of the arena. It seemed that after Maccabi grabbed a 15-point lead after the first quarter they folded like a cheap suit and were never really interested in getting down and dirty as they barely committed a foul in the middle quarters of the game. I asked the coach what was said during the timeout, “To be aggressive. We said at halftime to be aggressive and we played the same way instead of being more aggressive. We know Walden and Pnini are important for them. The matchups didn’t work because we weren’t tough enough mentally. When you don’t play tough and the other team plays tougher, everything you do goes into the hole.” The coach also spoke about not having brought on Deni Avdija earlier as the youngster showed a lot of drive and spirit when he entered the contest for the first time midway through the 4th quarter, “You never know after the game what would happened if he would have played earlier. But when you play for Maccabi you need to leave your skin on the court and give your heart. This is Maccabi.” About Holon being an important game, “The players have to understand that these are big games and important games for Maccabi. We have to fight for all of these games. I am responsible for this and if someone doesn’t follow me they will be out of the team.” Bottom line is that Sfairopoulos wasn’t a happy camper.
Ever since Guy Pnini left Maccabi his eyes seem to light up when he gets a chance to play them. The veteran sharp shooter just lets it loose against his former club time and time again, “I don’t know how I do it. It’s not like I come in on a higher level of focus against Maccabi. I’m happy I played well and helped the team win.” On the other side of the court, Maccabi Captain John Dibartolomeo was at a loss for words at the postgame press conference but did say what the difference between the two teams were, “Being aggressive and dictating playing harder. We didn’t do enough of that and Holon shot well on the court tonight and it shows.” Yovel Zoosman also spoke about the defeat and if the team took the game seriously enough, “They wanted it more than us. I don’t think we didn’t come unprepared. They hit some tough shots at the end of the clock and that was that.”