The math now matches the relentless momentum of Maccabi Tel Aviv. From what many considered to be the toughest group in the Euroleague before the season, Maccabi officially advanced early to the Top 16 with a 94-78 home victory against seventh-place Charleroi of Belgium. With the win, Maccabi (9-2) retains its share of first place in Group A and joins co-leader Benetton, who advanced on Wednesday, in the next round. Maccabi has not lost at home now in 17 straight European games, and it was not about to start on Wednesday. Far from any concern about advancing, Maccabi is in hot pursuit of Benetton for first place. Charleroi (2-9) was within 47-42 early in the third quarter when Maccabi blasted off on a 20-10 run that assured the home fans of eventual victory. Anthony Parker once again led the winners in scoring with 21 points, including some crucial baskets in that third-quarter run. Nate Huffman was a force inside with a double-double of 18 points and 17 rebounds.
Charleroi jumped out to an early 4-7 with a couple of quick three-pointers in the first few minutes, but it wasn't too long before Maccabi turned themselves around and took momentary control of the game. The Israelis caught fire and exploded for a 9-0 run for a 13-7 advantage after four minutes. Jacques Stas was not to be silenced by the Maccabi scoring, however, and countered with firepower of his own as he continued to knock down three-pointers. After his fourth long-distance shot in the first quarter alone brought the Belgians back to 17-15, the quarter finally ended with Maccabi ahead by just 21-20. Stas got off to a fantastic start, finishing the quarter with 13 points.
Charleroi regained the advantage four minutes into the second quarter at 27-26 and did not let Maccabi counter so easily. Roger Huggins stepped up his aggressive play and was able to draw four fouls out of Yoav Safar in less then 6 minutes. Maccabi however was not too impressed by that and managed to regroup before the halftime buzzer. The two teams fought hard in the final minutes but Maccabi was able to slightly loosen the tight reins Charleroi had placed on them and get away in the last two minutes of the quarter to lead by eight, 47-39, at intermission.
The second half opened just as the first one ended, with Charleroi shooting from outside the three-point arc, but unlike in the first half, the balls were not falling for the Belgians. Maccabi took advantage of the poor shooting and went on a 9-2 run in the first four minutes of the third quarter and extended their lead to 56-42. Maccabi buckled down on defense and kept their offense running, and for the rest of the third quarter managed to keep its lead in double digits. The third period ended with Maccabi leading by 12 at 70-58.
Nate Huffman gave his team its biggest lead three minutes into the final period with a free throw which made the score 80-60. For the next seven minutes, Maccabi played on cruise control, just trying to hold onto their lead. Charleroi made one final attempt to rally back from the 20-point deficit in the closing minutes with a 10-0 run that cut the lead to 11 at 83-72, but Maccabi did not seem affected and would not allow them to get any closer. Maccabi made sure of that and ended the game on an 11-4 run, winning easily, 94-76.
Thursday, January 17, 2002
Eran Sela, Tel Aviv