Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv hung on for a thrilling 94-101 overtime victory over Aris TT Bank on Thursday night at the Alexandrio Melathron in Thessaloniki, Greece, to clinch second place in Group B. Jeremiah Massey’s tip-in with 10 seconds to go in regulation forcesd, overtime but Maccabi regained its momentum quickly and held on to win it as Will Bynum iced the game with 2 free throws with 14.1 seconds remaining. The victory saw Maccabi increase its winning streak to five straight under former Aris head coach Zvika Sherf. The Israeli champs finished the regular season with an 11-3 record – same as Group B winner Lietuvos Rytas, but remain second on a tiebreaker. Maccabi will be a second seed in Monday’s Top 16 Draw, Meanwhile Aris, which dropped its second straight home game, fell to 7-7 and finished fifth in Group B. Head coach Gorgon Herbert’s side will be in the fourth level for the draw. Marcus Fizer led six Maccabi scorers in double figures with season-highs of 28 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out in the extra period. Terence Morris came through with 13 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, while Esteban Batista added 12 points, Yotam Halperin 11 and Derrick Sharp and Vonteego Cummings scored 10 each. Jeremiah Massey paced Aris with 22 points and 11 rebounds, Dimitris Tsaldaris scored 19 and dished 5 assists, Bracey Wright netted 17 and Darius Washington posted 11 points and 7 assists.
In a very balanced first quarter, the guests opened the score with Fizer and Halperin converting successful drives to the basket. Aris soon responded as Wright and Massey hit shots from beyond the arc to put the hosts ahead 9-8. Despite Fizer’s domination under the rim, Aris controlled the game and took a 16-10 lead, thanks to a couple of fast breaks perfectly finished by Massey. The hosts were unstoppable and extended the deficit though Tsaldaris’s first points of the game to 23-16. In a high-tempo game with neither team playing much defense, Fizer kept adding points under the basket and created chances for both David Bluthenthal and Vonteego Cummings to make open triples and cut the gap to 27-24 at the end of the quarter.
Nothing changed early in the second quarter with Vladimer Boisa keeping Aris ahead and Batista netting his first basket trying to take his team closer. However, the Uruguayan center proved very efficient under the basket while Fizer was resting on the bench and managed to put Maccabi ahead with 4 points in a row. After a timeout called by Aris head coach Herbert, the hosts got tougher on defense and tied the score through Terrel Castle and Savvas Iliadis jumpers midway through the second quarter. Sharp buried another triple to help the visitors regain the lead and Batista kept Maccabi out of trouble, 38-41. Tsaldaris went twice to the line exploiting Maccabi’s early foul trouble, but Sharp beat the halftime buzzer to let his team enter the locker rooms one step ahead of the hosts, 43-45.
Aris remained scoreless in the first couple minutes of the third quarter and Maccabi pushed the deficit closer to the double digits with Halperin igniting a 5-point spurt soon capped by Fizer, 43-50. Hanno Motolla stood up and reacted with his first triple and Massey brought his team closer with a couple of free throws. The game became tougher as both teams put the emphasis on defense, even though Aris couldn’t stop Fizer, who gave his team fresh air with another successful move under the basket, 50-54. Washington tried again to resist with a lay up and Tsaldaris threatened Maccabi with another triple, but the visitors remained out of trouble as Bynum found the way to the basket twice. The Maccabi guard was quite decisive late in the quarter as his first triple extended the margin to 58-65 and forced Aris into another timeout. Castle fixed the final outcome of the quarter with a pair of free throws, 60-65, but his team has already missed 7 chances from the line in the quarter
Castle’s first triple was enough to wake up the local fans who watched their team tie the game at behind another triple by Tsaldaris, 67-67. Batista moved smoothly in the paint to put the guests in charge again as Aris lost back to back chances to get ahead. Morris grabbed an important offensive rebound and dunked the ball to create another advantage for Maccabi, 67-72. Nobody could break Aris’s offensive drought with four minutes to go. However, Aris didn’t surrender and Wright fired one in from downtown and soon Tsaldaris copied him gaining an extra free through to cap an unbelievable 7-point spurt in less than a minute that tied the game another time, 74-74. In the clutch, Fizer proved again unstoppable and started a decisive 6-point charge with Alex Garcia’s assistance to mute the masses, 74-80. Washington drove to the basket successfully and then stole the ball twice, but scored only 2 of his 4 free throws. At the other and, Fizer kept his team ahead 80-84. Wright stood up and netted a key triple to bring Aris only 1 point back, but soon Cummings scored from the line to make it 83-86. With the game on the line, Washington hit his first free throw, but intentionally missed the second one and let Massey send the game into an extra period with a tip-in, 86-86.
Despite Aris’s huge effort to tie the game, Maccabi proved decisive in the first couple of minutes of the extra time. Morris took Maccabi in his arms nailing a jumper and firing from beyond the arc. Aris couldn’t stand up and cut the damage while Halperin capped his team’s 7-point run with a shot from downtown, forcing the Aris bench to ask for a timeout at 86-94. Washington netted a lay up to raise his team’s hopes, but Sharp buried Maccabi’s third triple in the extra time, 88-97. In such an incredible game, Aris found again the strength to come back to the game as Boisa and Massey drilled one apiece from the three-point line to get within 94-96 with only 50 seconds to go. Washington lost the chance to bring Aris closer, failing to net an easy layup, and Batista scored once from the line, 94-97. The hosts had still the chance to tie the game, but Wright hit the rim from beyond the arc and gave Bynum the chance to prevail from the line as Maccabi took a true thriller.
Thursday, January 31, 2008