Second half surge propels Haifa to fourth win in five games
In their eighth attempt to reach the .500 mark, the Greens finally evened their record (11-11) after earning an 81-72 victory over Hapoel Eilat on Sunday evening. The atmosphere at Romema was a festive one as the Haifa fans came decked out in costumes and were handed player masks to celebrate Purim. The Greens earned their fourth win in five games, rising to sixth place in the standings –capping the second round of the Winner League season.
“We knew we had to step it up in the second half, we played more aggressive on defense and smarter on offense,” said Greens’ coach Offer Rahimi. “Pinkey is not the only one who can score in the paint, we have Will Graves, Oz Blayzer and also Daniel Koperberg, who gave us some good minutes today which I am the happiest about it. We will continue to improve our game. I want to salute Amit Simhon, who played injured today, with an injection and looked great on the floor.”
The Greens shot the ball well from beyond the arc, connecting on 12-of-30 attempts (40%). The Haifa defense pressured Eilat all evening, forcing 26 turnovers to only 9 turnovers committed by the Greens.
Five Maccabi Hunter Haifa players scored in double figures, led by Gregory Vargas who dropped a season-high 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field to go along with four dimes. Amit Simhon tallied 21 points on 8-of-17 from the field and four rebounds, while big man Kevinn Pinkney was effective with 13 points and 7 boards. John DiBartolomeo was stellar against Eilat (12 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 steals) for the second time this season, earning the start in the absence of an injured Orlando Mendez-Valdez. Will Graves, who knocked down several clutch shots late in the game, finished with 11 points (3-of-4 from downtown) and four rebounds.
Eilat’s Landon Milbourne, who continues to tear up the league, tallied 23 points with only one board. Former Haifa captain Chanan Colman added 13 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists, while former Haifa big man Reggie Buckner was limited to four points while snaring 7 rebounds in the defeat.
“We are on a good run and I am glad we did our job tonight,” Simhon said after the game. “It was important for us to win at home and finish the second round with a win.”
After a sluggish start to the contest, the Greens found themselves trailing 25-18 to Eilat at the end of the first frame. The second quarter began with neither team able to score a basket for the first two minutes before Eilat’s Will Daniels knocked down a jumper to extend Eilat’s lead to nine. Amit Simhon woke the Greens up with 8 straight points on two 3-pointers and a layup to trim the gap to 29-26 in favor of Eilat. The visitors answered by stretching their lead to nine points, but Graves buried a 3-pointer and Vargas followed with a bucket to whittle Eilat’s lead down to 37-33. DiBartolomeo hit a huge 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Greens into the half trailing by just three points, 39-36.
Vargas knotted the game at 39 after netting a trey to start the second half. Colman knocked down a 3-pointer to put Eilat back up by three, 44-41. A beautiful feed by DiBartolomeo to Vargas was rewarded with a 3-pointer to tighten the score at 46-44 to Eilat. The backcourt duo helped spark an 8-2 run, as DiBartolomeo’s relentless defense led to a steal and a layup to put Haifa on top 49-48. On the next several possessions, Simhon and Vargas controlled the offensive boards, scoring with a tip-in and layup, respectively, to put Haifa up 53-51. DiBartolomeo finished the quarter with another buzzer-beater — this time with a steal and a layup to put Haifa up 58-55.
Colman quickly tied the contest at 58-58 with another 3-pointer, but Simhon and Vargas answered with four straight points to put Haifa up 63-58. Vargas picked up a technical foul after contesting a charge call, which gave Eilat life as they closed within one point, 63-62, after Colman splashed in another shot from long distance.
The turning point of the game came on a Graves 3-pointer which put Haifa up 68-62 with 4:12 left in regulation. Haifa ensued on a 14-4 run, highlighted by several great defensive plays by DiBartolomeo and Graves which were capitalized on by the Greens to take a commanding 77-66 lead with 1:31 left on the clock. The Greens contolled clock down the stretch as they secured their second win over Eilat with an 81-72 victory.