Maccabi Hunter Haifa nearly completed an improbable comeback against Rishon Lezion – coming from down 0-2 in the quarterfinals series to tie it up at 2-2. The Greens had the fans behind them at RK Arena on Wednesday night after an amazing rally in the third quarter which had the Green crowd roaring – pulling them ahead 51-47 – after trailing the entire first half. However, Haifa had no answer for center Darryl Monroe, who had a monster game with 27 points and on 11-of-12 from the field while snaring 13 rebounds. Monroe lifted Rishon in the fourth quarter, as the visitors outscored Haifa 23-9. Haifa just couldn’t seem to find the rim late in the frame as they were downed 70-60 as their season came to an end.
The Greens were paced by 18 points from Will Graves (including 9-of-9 from the line), while John DiBartolomeo scored 17 points along with 5 rebounds. The Greens’ floor leader Gregory Vargas scored 12 points and snared 11 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough. Despite controlling the boards, outrebounding Rishon 43-34, Haifa struggled from the field, shooting just 31.1 percent from the field.
“We didn’t play well today, mostly on offense, with very low percentages and poor execution,” coach Hadar said. “I took the players to the locker room and told them thank you for their efforts this season. I think that we were okay on defense, we covered their three point shooting and their fast break, but our ability on offense closed the game.”
“I have to compliment Rishon on how hard they played,” Graves said. “They got the ball where they wanted to move it to. We were half second off on our rotation and our physicalness. It just didn’t bounce our way today. It was the wrong day not to bounce our way. It’s been a great group of guys, it’s been a great journey, it’s been a great season, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be around. I’m appreciative that we fought today, I’m appreciative of or fans for being here and cheering hard. I wish we could have won today.”
Rishon’s Dawson opened the game with a bucket, which was answered by a three from Colman. The visitors pushed the tempo with a 12-0 run to race out to a 14-3 lead over Haifa. The Greens countered with a 9-0 run of their own, sparked by 6 points Will Graves and a 3-pointer from DiBartolomeo to tighten the score at 14-12 in favor or Rishon. Haifa would finish the first frame trailing 18-14 to Rishon. Buckner, who was been plagued with foul problems throughout the series, picked up two fouls in the quarter.
Rishon raced out in the second frame with an 8-2 run to take a double digit lead 26-16 capped by a Dawson layup. Graves and DiBartolomeo knocked down jumpers, but a Ben Chimol 3-pointer and six straight points inside from Monroe extended Haifa’s deficit at 35-23. DiBartolomeo drew two fouls, connecting on four straight from the line to whittle the gap down to 35-27. Monroe added one more point after drawing a foul with 1.4 seconds left as Haifa trailed 36-27.