Maccabi Hunter Haifa suffered a crushing blow on Wednesday night at Romema Arena after losing their fifth consecutive game in heart-breaking fashion 71-68 at the hands of Hapoel Jerusalem in Round 24 of the Winner League.
Coach Nati Cohen – along with coach Tomer Shteinhaur – led the Greens from the sidelines in the first game without Offer Rahimi who announced his resignation on Sunday evening. The one saving grace from Wednesday night came from the Gilboa/Galil – Nahariya game. Gilboa erased a 20 point deficit to earn a comeback victory over Nahariya, as Maccabi (7-19) still remains two games out of the loss column behind Nahariya (9-17) with seven games left in the season.
The Greens had their chances down the stretch against the defending champions. With the game clock winding down, Angel Rodriguez lobbed an immaculate pass to Reggie Buckner who finished the alley-oop with a thunderous dunk to put Maccabi Hunter Haifa up 68-65 with 36.3 left in regulation.
After a called a timeout by Hapoel’s coach Oded Katash, Jerome Dyson found Ronald Roberts for an improbable alley-oop to bring the Reds with one point 68-67. On the next possession, Oz Blayzer inbounded the ball and committed a critical turnover after being called for a travel, allowing Jerusalem the opportunity to take the lead with 25.7 left in the game.
Hapoel’s Dyson, who was named Game MVP on a game-high 21 points, was fouled and made both free throws to put Jerusalem ahead 69-68 with 16.2 left in the contest. The Greens, once again, fumbled the ball as Oded Brandwein turned it over, allowing Jerusalem’s Yotam Halperin to score a bucket to make it 71-68. Halperin could have let the clock expire but scored the bucket with 1.6 seconds left – after the officials reviewed the film – which gave the Greens one last chance. Unfortunately, Brandon Bowman couldn’t handle the inbound pass cleanly and never got a shot off as time ran out.
“Jerusalem is a better team than us on paper, but we had to beat them today,” Nati Cohen said after the game. “We were there, we deserved to win but there is no ‘deserved’ in sports. They did the right things at the end and we didn’t. It is a symptom of a team with a lack of confidence.”
Reggie Buckner posted a dominant performance for the Greens, dropping 18 points and 11 rebounds, including 4 dunks and 2 blocks in 31 minutes. Trevor Gaskins was the only other Haifa player to score in double figures with 15 points. The Greens struggled from beyond the arc all evening, shooting just 20 percent (4-of-20).
The defending champions were paced by Dyson’s 21 points, who spurred an 11-0 Jerusalem run in the third quarter to knot the score at 46-46, after scoring 8 straight points – including back-to-back triples. Bar Timor recorded 11 points and Stratos Perperoglou chipped in 10 points in Hapoel’s victory.
To start the contest, Nati Cohen ran out a lineup which featured the Ole Miss trio of Gaskins, Zach Graham and Buckner, along with Roi Huber and Oz Blayzer. The first quarter was very competitive with Daniel Koperberg scoring a tough shot underneath the basket to give the Greens a 20-19 edge to close the period. Maccabi used a late 10-0 burst in the second quarter, capped by a Blayzer jumper, as the Greens finished the first half with a 34-31 lead.
Maccabi’s momentum continued into the third period as Blayzer and Gaskins buried triples to cap an 18-1 Haifa run, as the Greens extended their lead to 42-31 over Jerusalem. Dyson missed twice from the line and remained without a point since the first quarter, but then exploded and with two 3-pointers and another basket in a minute, to knot the game at 46-46. Buckner ended the Haifa drought with two free throws, but Halperin’s 3-pointer reclaimed a 49-48 for Hapoel. Buckner continued to carry the Greens on his back and returned the lead, but Elias Pour tied the game 50-50 at the end of the period after making one of two from the line.
The Greens and Reds traded leads to start the fourth quarter. Perperoglou knocked down a long jumper and a 3-pointer, and Halperin scored a bucket to put Jerusalem up 62-58. Gaskins buried a clutch 3-pointer to bring the Greens with one point, but Eliyahu scored on the other end to put Jerusalem back up by three points. Workman and Gaskin restored the lead for Maccabi with buckets in the paint, and Buckner made one of two free throws to put Haifa up 66-64 at the 1:17 mark of the fourth. Roberts answered with one of two from the charity stripe to make it a one-point game. Despite going up by three points with less than a minute left, careless turnovers by the Greens cost them the game.