Maccabi Hunter Haifa achieved the victory they needed against Kiryat Gat on Monday night in Ashkelon, but it wasn’t without two late runs by the home team which put Haifa on their heels. Haifa improved to 18-13 on the Winner League season, and can secure third place with a win next Sunday over Hapoel Eilat.
“It’s not easy to play against teams in those situations as we saw them come back to win against Eilat in a similar game,” coach Rami Hadar said. “We will come to the playoffs with a good momentum, and I think we played good today, but we left a lot of points on the foul line. I am very optimistic, and with our guys, it’s hard not to be.”
The Greens maintained double digit advantages both in the third and midway through the fourth quarter, and each time Kiryat Gat mounted a comeback. With the Greens leading 68-55 in the fourth frame, after a Colman 3-pointer, Kiryat Gat managed to climb all the way back to within two points at 72-70 after Meir Tapiro splashed in a rainbow 3-pointer with 6.0 left in the game. Haifa could have put the game out of reach during both Kiryat Gat runs, but they struggled from the line, connecting on only 38% from the charity stripe. Despite a sub-par game from Gregory Vargas, he netted one of two from the free throw line to put Haifa up 73-70, which ended up being enough.
Captain Chanan Colman scored a game-high 18 points on 7-of-11 from the field, along with 4 rebounds and 4 steals. The Captain’s three-point shooting has been one of the league’s best, as he drained 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Rene Rougeau had his third straight game in double figures, scoring 11 points on 5-of-8 from the field in 19 minutes. Oz Blayzer contributed 10 points and 4 assists in 18 minutes, while John DiBartolomeo added 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Will Graves struggled from beyond the arc, connecting on 2-of-9 from downtown, but dished out 5 assists while pulling down 5 boards and 6 points. The Greens turned the ball over 20 times, while dishing out 18 assists.
“It was a tough game. We let it get tough,” said Colman. “We came out very strong – like we usually do – we came out and dominated, but somehow we let them get back in the game off our mistakes.”
The Greens did get off to a great start, jumping out to a 10-2 lead. A 3-pointer by Oz Blayzer put Haifa up 15-7 midway through the first frame, however, Kiryat Gat climbed back to within 19-15 to the Greens. The home team continued their momentum into the second quarter as they capped a 9-0 run to claim a 24-19 over Haifa. Haifa responded with a 10-0 run, started by back-to-back 3-pointers from Colman and DiBartolomelo and four points from Rougeau. Haifa ended the first half with three 3-pointers from Blayzer, Graves and DiBartolomeo to go up 42-35 at the break.
In the third quarter, Haifa seemed to be cruising after back-to-back jumpers from Alex Chubreivhc (who was suffering from a cold) gave Haifa a 53-38 advantage. Kiryat Gat finished the quarter on a 12-3 run, but Haifa didn’t help themselves — missing 6 consecutive free throw attempts — to take a 56-50 edge at the end of the third.
Early in the fourth quarter, Haifa finally put an end to Kiryat Gat’s run thanks to a DiBartolomeo bucket to make it 58-52 in favor of Haifa. Buckner converted on a three-point play on a beautiful feed from DiBartolomeo, which sparked a 10-0 run to give Haifa a double-digit lead of 68-55. Haifa sweated it out late in the fourth due to a furious run by Kiryat Gat, but did just enough to hold on for the victory.