Graves spurs late rally but is blocked at buzzer as Haifa comes up short 75-73
Maccabi Hunter Haifa came close to derailing a steaming Hapoel Holon team on Wednesday night at Romema, mounting a late 18-6 run to take a five-point lead, 68-63, with 2:54 left in regulation. However, it’s become an unfortunate reoccurrence for Haifa to relinquish their lead as they eventually succumbed to Holon, 75-73.
After starting the fourth quarter down 57-50, the catalyst for the Greens’ 10-0 spurt to begin the fourth quarter comeback was Will Graves, who scored 11 of his 19 points in the final frame, along with steady minutes from newcomer Kevinn Pinkney, and a clutch 3-pointer from Gregory Vargas to put Haifa up by five.
The Greens couldn’t get the critical stops they needed as Holon veteran Tony Younger hit a 3-pointer and center Darion Atkins knotted the game at 68 with 1:50 left on the clock. Amit Simhon made a beautiful drive for a layup to go up, 70-68, but Haifa couldn’t stop Atkins, who finished the night with 16 points and 6 boards, as he drained a jumper to tie the game at 70. On the next possession, Haifa committed a critical turnover which led to a wide open 3-pointer by Jordan Taylor on the other end of the floor at the 52.8 mark.
The Greens didn’t give in though, as Graves splashed in a 3-pointer with 36.5 left in the contest. Once again, it was Atkins who burned Haifa with a short jumper to go up, 75-73. Haifa had one last chance to win it, but Graves stumbled corralling the ball and was blocked on his 3-point shot attempt at the buzzer as Haifa dropped to 7-10 on the season — suffering their second straight loss.
“We made some mistakes and we didn’t get the stops on defense, so it’s disappointing,” said head coach Offer Rahimi. “I think that we had some poor minutes on offense. In money time, we didn’t make the important defensive stops, and they scored too easy.”
Haifa held the leading scorer in Israel, Khalif Wyatt, in check in the first half. However, Wyatt managed to finish the game with 15 points to go along with 6 turnovers in 30 minutes. The Greens were paced by Graves’ game-high 19 points on 7-for-12 from the field, followed by Simhon who posted 13 points and 5 rebounds in 36 minutes. John DiBartolomeo was only other Haifa player to score in double figures, tallying 11 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
“We are talking all the time about how we need to be more aggressive at the end, and it’s very frustrating to lose again in a close game,” Simhon reclaimed. “There are no easy games and we have to know how to lift ourselves and learn from the mistakes in order to improve.”
Haifa fell behind Holon early 6-2, but Mendez-Valdez knocked down a 3-pointer and Blayzer put Haifa up 7-6 after netting two from the line. The Greens traded threes as Simhon and Mendez-Valdez kept Haifa on top, 15-14. A Vargas drive and two shots from the charity stripe by DiBartolomeo gave Haifa a 23-18 advantage at the end of the first frame.
The Greens built a 29-20 advantage early in the second quarter, but Holon went on a run to take a one point lead at the half, 40-39. Holon raced out to an 8-0 spurt to cap an 18-2 run to take a 48-39 lead over Haifa at the 6:28 mark of the third quarter. Graves finally broke up the drought with a 3-pointer and Simhon scored a bucket to bring Haifa within 50-44. The Greens creeped back to within 55-50, but Holon hit a shot at the buzzer to take a 57-50 heading into the final quarter.
Prior to the game, Maccabi Hunter Haifa honored former center, Alex Chubrevich. Also, Oz Blayzer was presented with the Israeli Player of the Month during the pregame.