It was only a few weeks ago that Maccabi Haifa lost a nail biter in overtime to Hapoel Jerusaelm. Not this time. Maccabi Haifa came away with the victory they were seeking in the State Cup tournament as they eliminated Hapoel Jerusalem with a 87-72 win at PAIS Arena. Gregory Vargas played outstanding, tallying 22 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals, while Oz Blayzer stepped up with 17 points and Reggie Buckner added 14 points and 4 rebounds in the win.
“We stuck together every time,” Vargas said. “It was great defense, we played smart and aggressive. Jerusalem is a great team, so if you make a mistake, you pay the price. So today, everyone came focused, everyone stayed on the same page, everybody played together, and that’s it, that was the key to the game.”
The Greens shot 53 percent (10-of-19) from beyond the arc, and controlled the glass with a 35-28 edge on Jerusalem. After a tight first half, the Greens played dominant basketball in the second stanza, outscoring Hapoel Jerusalem 23-16 in both the third and fourth quarters to seal the win. Josh Duncan came off the bench with 17 points in 16 minutes, and former Haifa great Donta Smith contributed 12 points, but it wasn’t enough.
Maccabi Haifa came out looking sharp to start the game as Oz Blayzer found his shooting touch, putting the Greens up 10-5 over Jerusalem. Blayzer scored 9 points in the first quarter while Vargas added 5 points as Haifa held a slim lead over Jerusalem, 22-18.
In the second quarter, Haifa extended their lead as John DiBartolomeo couldn’t miss from downtown as he buried two 3-pointers to give the Greens a double-digit advantage 37-27 midway through the period. The tide shifted to close the half as Jerusalem’s Josh Duncan came off the bench to help the Red and White ensue on a 14-4 run, however, the Greens finished the half leading by one one point, 41-40.
Buckner scored the first three points of the second half to put Haifa up 4, but Jerusalem answered by knotting it up at 44-44 early in the quarter. Buckner was able to draw fouls and knock down free throws, while Will Graves buried two consecutive contested shots from long distance to give Haifa a 59-48 advantage. As Jerusalem creeped back, Vargas answered with a fast-break layup to push the Greens to a 64-56 advantage over Jerusalem at the end of the third quarter.
The Greens seemed to have an answer for every Jerusalem run as Haifa scored 8 straight points on 2 baskets from Blayzer and free throws from Buckner, Blayzer and Colman to go up 74-60. EJ Rowland netted a three-pointer for Jerusalem, but Blayzer struck back with a huge three of his own, and Rene Rougeau made a fast break dunk after securing his sixth steal of the night to put Haifa up 79-65 at the 2:47 mark. Vargas put the game out of reach as he continued to attack the basket to help the Greens pulled away as the clock ticked down to the final buzzer, earning an impressive 87-72 victory over Jerusalem to advance to the State Cup quarterfinals.