By Amy Samin
Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv won a tough away game Monday night, defeating Ironi Ashkelon 87 – 83. Hendrix (9 rebounds) and Eliyahu each scored 17 points; Blu contributed 15. Ohayon dished out no fewer than 9 assists, and Papaloukas, in his first Israeli League game, made 8 assists and scored a crucial basket with seconds left on the clock. Newly signed guard Keith Langford, who arrived in Israel earlier in the evening, showed up to support his new teammates.
The Israeli champions came to the game without Jordan Farmar, who is recovering from an injury, and Sofo Schortsanitis who got the night off. This was Maccabi’s fourth away game in the last week. On Thursday, they’ll face Partizan mt:s Belgrade at Nokia Arena, for the home Euroleague opener (9:00 pm, channel 10).
After the game, head coach David Blatt said, “Last year we also had a tough time here, apparently it’s hard for us in Ashkelon. As I recall, Maccabi also lost here a few times in the past. I’m glad we were able to prevent that tonight. Ashkelon played extremely well, and they are to be congratulated. We knew what to do in the critical moments of the game, and that was enough. The third game in less than a week isn’t easy, and it’s part of the process for us, to learn how to do it and win.”
“We’re going to have some close games this season, and the important thing is to know how to win them. It doesn’t matter if we win by 4 points or by 40. Last week you [the media] told us we had no place in this league, and now here we’ve had a close game. I’m glad we won in the end, that’s the most important thing. I’m very happy to see Langford, and we’re going to need another creative guard, especially as long as Jordan can’t play (injury). We played tonight with lineups we won’t use for much of the season. Once Jordan and Keith are back in shape I imagine we’ll go back to being the same team we were a week ago.”
Maccabi’s starting five were Jon Scheyer, Yogev Ohayon, Devin Smith, Lior Eliyahu, and Shawn James. The hosts got off to a good start in the game, taking a 9 – 4 lead after three minutes. Eliyahu scored on a fastbreak and Smith sank two from the foul line to put Maccabi within one. Points by David Blu and Guy Pnini gave Maccabi the lead, which Ashkelon quickly retook off points by Dwayne Mitchell. A layup by Theo Papaloukas put Maccabi back up 19 – 17, but seven unanswered points by Ashkelon gave them a five point lead. Two straight buckets by Richard Hendrix closed out the quarter with Maccabi trailing by one, 24 – 23.
With Papaloukas running the offense and dishing out three straight assists in the first minute of the second quarter, Maccabi retook the lead, 27 – 24. Raymar Morgan and company kept fighting, and within two minutes had put Ashkelon back within one, 29 – 28. Minutes later, they had tied the score at 31. Thanks to a basket and 1 by Eliyahu, Maccabi extended that lead to four, 36 – 32. But Ashkelon’s defense held Maccabi scoreless for the last minute and a half of the period, following a dunk by Hendrix on the inbounds. The two straight shots from outside the arc didn’t hurt the hosts either, and the teams went into the halftime break with Ashkelon leading 41 – 38.
Maccabi inaugurated the third quarter with points by James (assist Ohayon) and soon points by Smith on the inbounds had tied the score at 46. Mitchell and Morgan continued to show off their skill, but they were answered by Hendrix and Smith. A huge dunk by Hendrix (offensive rebound + assist, Ohayon) made it 56 – 55, Maccabi with three and a half minutes left in the period. The lead changed hands three more times, until a layup by Scheyer and points by Eliyahu gave Maccabi a 63 – 60 lead as time ran out on the third period.
Blu scored a three pointer and a long two to get things started in the fourth quarter, but Marco Killingsworth and Morgan scored to retake the lead yet again, 69 – 68. Two more special deliveries from downtown by Blu put Maccabi up 76 – 73 near the halfway mark in the period. Maccabi fought for rebounds on both ends of the court, and Hendrix drained a fadeaway jumper to extend Maccabi’s lead, following it up with another bucket that made it 82 – 76. A crucial stop and pop by Papaloukas made it 84 – 80 with 28 seconds remaining on the clock. Mitchell and Killingsworth did their best, but Papaloukas’ basket off the fastbreak helped Maccabi hold on to bring home the win, 87 – 83 over Ironi Ashkelon.
Maccabi: Hendrix 17 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals; Eliyahu 17 points, 5 rebounds; Blu 15 points; Smith 11 points, 4 rebounds; James 9 points, 3 rebounds; Papaloukas 8 points, 8 assists; Ohayon 4 points, 9 assists; Pnini 4 points; Scheyer 2 points.
Top Scorers for Ashkelon: Morgan 23 points; Killingsworth and Mitchell 17 points each; Skinn 13 points.