Ness Ziona nips Mac TA to even series

A Khalif Wyatt three-pointer with 10.4 seconds to play gave Ironi Ness Ziona a 95-94 upset win over Maccabi Tel Aviv on Thursday night, leveling the best-of-five BSL quarterfinal series at 1-1.

Maccabi looked to be on course for an easy series after winning Game 1 at home by 32 points on Tuesday. But the yellowand- blue has its work cut out for it after falling on the road on Thursday, in what was just its second playoff defeat since 2011. Tel Aviv has lost in the Final Four semifinals in each of the previous three seasons, but since 2010/11 it has recorded sweeps in six of seven series, with its only previous loss in the playoffs over that stretch coming to Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in Game 2 of the 2013/14 series it went on to win 3-1.

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Maccabi entered Thursday’s game on the back of a five-game BSL winning streak, its longest of the season, but it couldn’t make it six and is under pressure entering Game 3 on Saturday.

A Michael Roll basket with 30.6 seconds remaining gave Tel Aviv a 94-92 advantage, but Wyatt responded with a clutch trey at the other end and Ness Ziona clinched the victory after Jerey Pargo missed a tough three-pointer.

Daequan Cook had 27 points for Ness Ziona, which can now dream of becoming just the second No. 8 seed in BSL playoff history to upset a top seed, joining last season’s Maccabi Haifa. Wyatt finished with 19 points, while Talib Zanna had 14 points and 14 rebounds.

“We are definitely capable of winning the series and are looking forward to going back to Maccabi on Saturday,” said Wyatt.

Roll had 20 points for Maccabi.

“We have to play better defense,” said Maccabi coach Neven Spahija before complaining about the officiating, with his team attempting 15 free throws to Ness Ziona’s 29.

“And also I have to tell you that Maccabi has to be better by 20 points to win by two, but we will not complain. We will analyze our game and our mistakes, especially in transition defense.”

Ness Ziona coach Nadav Zilberstein was understandably delighted.

“We knew we are much better than what we showed in Game 1,” said Zilberstein.

“We came with a slightly different game plan and took some risks and I’m happy it worked out. The most significant thing was that we were composed on offense and didn’t lose our cool.”

Zilberstein believes his team is capable of stunning Maccabi to reach the Final Four.

“Anything is possible,” he said. “It is very important how we enter Game 3 from a mental standpoint. We will have to be really, really good to win at Yad Eliyahu.”

Also Thursday, Hapoel Tel Aviv leveled its series with Maccabi Ashdod at 1-1, winning 98-77. Adrian Banks had 21 points for the dominant Hapoel, while Sek Henry scored 21 points for Ashdod, which hosts Game 3 on Saturday.

Game 2 in the two other quarterfinals will be played on Friday.

Reigning champion Hapoel Jerusalem could find itself on the brink of making a shock exit should it fail to defeat Hapoel Gilboa/Galil at Gan Ner Arena. Gilboa stunned Jerusalem 85-78 on the road to take a 1-0 lead on Wednesday. Gilboa controlled the contest in Jerusalem and will be confident of continuing its surprise season with another upset on Friday afternoon.

“Gilboa handed us a wake up call and we need to react in an appropriate manner,” said Jerusalem coach Oded Katash.

His team can perhaps draw some encouragement from the fact that it also lost its playoff opener at home last season against Ironi Nahariya, but ultimately won the series and went on to claim the championship.

“We need to match Gilboa’s intensity level. If we thought that we had an advantage, we now need to get our act together and understand that reaching the Final Four isn’t going to be easy,” added Katash.

Also Friday, Hapoel Eilat hosts Hapoel Holon looking to level the series. Holon claimed an 89-83 victory in Game 1.