Maccabi Hunter Haifa accomplished their goal of clinching third place — solidifying home court advantage in the playoffs– in a 71-58 win over Hapoel Eilat on Sunday night at RK Arena. The final score was not indicative of how dramatic the game actually was as Eilat ensued on a furious second half comeback, which was stymied by Haifa late in the game. The Greens earned their 19th victory of the season — setting a new regular season franchise record.
“We played against an excellent team, which made a great comeback,” coach Rami Hadar said. “I am very happy about this game, besides the first 7 minutes of the second half. We want to win next week as well, and I think that to finish in third place is a success, and now we need to get past the quarterfinals.”
The Venezuelan floor leader Gregory Vargas paced the Greens with 17 points on 7-of-10 from the field along with 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Three other Haifa players scored in double figures with shooting John DiBartolomeo recording 12 points and a game-high 5 steals, while both Rougeau and Buckner each scored 10 points. The Greens were outrebounded by Eilat 41-29, as the Greens’ guards – Colman and Vargas – led Haifa with 5 caroms each on the evening. Eilat was led by center Alade Aminu’s double-double on 13 points and 12 rebounds in the loss.
“We expected a war,” DiBartolomeo said. “We took our foot off the gas during the game and Eilat was able to comeback, but despite that we were able to stay focused and get the win. I’m glad we secured home court advantage — it is very important.”
The Greens’ offensive rhythm was sharp from the get-go. After 3-pointers by Vargas and Graves, Chubrevich hit a jumper to put Haifa up 10-6 over Eilat in the first quarter. The Greens reeled off a 6-0 spurt on Rougeau’s continued improved play, scoring four straight, while Chubrevich netted another jumper to take a 16-8 advantage over Eilat. Vargas added another 3-pointer and DiBartolomeo drained a trey right before the buzzer to put Haifa up 22-13 at the end of the first quarter.
Eilat got off to a better start in the second quarter, but Buckner energized Haifa with a bucket in the paint, and followed with a beautiful feed to Rougeau, who knocked down a jumper to take a 26-20 lead. Vargas found a wide open Rougeau underneath the basket for a bucket, while Buckner continued to do work underneath the rim, grabbing an offensive board and a put-back for a three-point play to give Haifa their first double-digit lead of the game, 33-23. A wild series ensued with Haifa recording two consecutive blocks, and Eilat answering with a block of their own, but Eilat finally capitalized on a Wyatt 3-pointer from the corner. Colman responded with a shot from downtown, which sparked 10-0 Haifa run on a fast break bucket from Vargas and five straight points by DiBartolomeo. Haifa finished the first half shooting 56.2% from the field with Vargas leading the way with 14 points and 4 rebounds to take a 45-29 advantage at the break.
As well as Haifa shot in the first half, nothing seemed to go right for the Greens to start the third quarter as they were held scoreless for the first six minutes as Eilat went on a 17-0 run to whittle Haifa’s lead down to 45-43. Buckner finally put an end to the Greens’ scoring drought with a bucket inside, which was the catalyst for a 9-0 Haifa run to finish the third frame up 56-43, as DiBartolomeo once again scored just shy of the buzzer with a nifty lefty layup.
The momentum again swayed towards Eilat’s favor to start the fourth frame as they went on a 9-2 run to cut Haifa’s lead to 56-54. Vargas netted two clutch free throws and Graves drained a 3-pointer to give Haifa 61-54 lead. Chubrevich netted his third jumper of the game, and Vargas stepped up with a 3-pointer (his first points of the second half) with a dagger 3-pointer, which deflated Eilat. Graves put the icing on the cake with another 3-pointer to go up 69-58 with 54.8 left in regulation. Rougeau scored the final basket for Haifa as they Greens finished off Eilat 71-58.
Haifa concludes their regular season on the road at Hapoel Tel Aviv next week.