Five Haifa players scored in double figures led by Orlando Mendez-Valdez’s 17 points
It was a party atmosphere at Romema on Sunday evening as Maccabi Hunter Haifa celebrated their return to the court with an 86-69 rout over Hapoel Jerusalem. Haifa led throughout the entire game as the Greens improved to 9-10 on the season. With just under five minutes left to play, Orlando Mendez-Valdez got the crowd roaring after drilling a deep fadeaway on one foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to put Haifa up 72-59. Gregory Vargas put the icing on the cake with another 3-pointer as the fans remained cheering all the way to the final buzzer.
“Every coach wants to have a team as sharp as we were on the floor tonight,” coach Offer Rahimi said after the game. “We waited a long time to bring that type of energy to our home court. I told the players that we have a sub .500 record at home and I think they played for the fans who came out to support us. We lost tough games here and I am glad we won in fashion tonight. We scored with good percentages from the field today, but we have much more to improve.”
Haifa burned Jerusalem from long distance as the Greens shot 10-of-23 (43%) from three-point land. The Greens also dominated the boards — outrebounding Jerusalem 35-23 — including 13 offensive rebounds. Mendez-Valdez paced the Greens with 17 points on 5-of-6 from downtown — draining several at the buzzer. Four other Haifa players scored in double-figures with Oz Blayzer tallying 16 points and 5 rebounds — surpassing 1,000 points in his career. Amit Simhon dropped 15 points while Will Graves added 13 points in 23 minutes. Gregory Vargas’s stat line was busy tonight with 11 points, a team-high 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Kevinn Pinkney contributed with 9 points in 21 minutes while John DiBartolomeo chipped in 3 points in 23 minutes.
“It’s an honor to reach 1,000 points in my career, but I see it as a mark and the big win tonight is the real thing that counts,” Blayzer said. “We jumped on them from the start with aggressiveness and it worked. We are up against some tough games ahead in the schedule, but if we will come like we did today, I think we will do the job.”
Jerusalem, which seemed to never recover from their loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv last Thursday in the Cup Final, was led by Travis Peterson who notched 14 points while Curtis Jerrells added 11 points in the defeat.
The Greens got off to a great start after a 3-pointer by Mendez-Valdez put Haifa up 9-2. Pinkney went to work inside and Blayzer finished a fastbreak with a dunk to extend Haifa’s advantage to 17-7. The Greens went up 23-12 lead after DiBartolomeo fed Graves for a layup. Jerusalem’s Shawn Jones sank two from the line to close the quarter with Haifa leading 23-14.
Graves and Pinkney extended Haifa’s lead to double digits to start the second quarter, but Hapoel used an 11-0 run to trim the score to 32-29. Graves ended the Greens’ drought with a bucket and DiBartolomeo followed with a 3-pointer to give Haifa a 35-29 lead. Jerusalem continued to chip away as Jerrells drove to the rim for a bucket to cut it to 36-33 to Haifa. Vargas made a beautiful spin for a layup, and Blayzer’s tip-in made it 40-33. Jerrell’s drained a 3-pointer to finish the first half as the Greens went into the break with a 40-36 advantage.
Simhon kicked off the second half with a 3-pointer, while Vargas added a layup to push Haifa’s lead up to 45-36. Mendez-Valdez banked in a buzzer-beater 3-pointer to give Haifa a double-digit lead again at 48-37. Mendez-Valdez then fed Pinkney in the paint who finished with a layup and Blayzer grabbed an offensive board and putback as the Greens ensued on a 13-4 run to go up 61-43. Jerusalem tightened the score from the line, but Haifa still maintained a comfortable 63-49 advantage at the end of the third frame.
In the final frame, Jerusalem’s Jerrells tried to mount a comeback with four straight points as the Reds closed within 10 at 69-59. However, Mendez-Valdez put an end to that with his incredible 3-pointer from way behind the line as the Greens ran away with it to finish the 17 point victory in style.