Yotam Halperin had two steals, an assist and a key free throw in the last 15 seconds to lead Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv to a 74-71 season-opening win over Le Mans Sarthe Basket on Thursday night at Nokia Arena. Le Mans led for much of the second half and was up 10 late in the third quarter, behind strong play from Sam Clancy in the paint and gutsy moves from Nebojsa Bogavac. But the visitors dried up in the final minutes. For Maccabi, Nikola Vujcic stepped up down the stretch, feeding Lior Eliyahu twice to keep Maccabi close and then hitting a three to tie the game, setting the stage for Halperin’s heroics. The Maccabi guard came up big when he was needed the most to guarantee the win. Halperin led Maccabi with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 9 assists and Vujcic had 14 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. David Bluthenthal added 12 points and team captain Derrick Sharp 11. Clancy finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds, Bogavac added 12 and Luka Bogdanovic 10. Nicolas Batum added 9 points and 6 steals and big man Alain Koffi posted 8 points and 11 rebounds.
Maccabi won the opening tip, but it was Le Mans that struck first via Batum. The hosts missed a few open shots early, causing coach Oded Kattash to take his first timeout less than two minutes in. Nevertheless, a Clancy tip-in made it 0-6 before a Halperin three-pointer finally got Maccabi into the game. Clancy and Vujcic traded points in the paint, but a Bogdanovic jumper kept the Le Mans ahead 7-14. The momentum started to turn after a Halpein drive and an offensive foul on Clancy. Marcus Fizer fed Halperin for a three-point play that cut the deficit to 2. Philip Ricci came off the bench for the visitors and his physical presence inside helped them stay ahead. A Vonteego Cummings basket followed by Sharp free throws tied it at 18-18, however Bogavac drilled a three from the corner to restore Le Mans’s lead. Halperin tied the game again with a three-point play and than layed in an easy fast-break score to give him 13 points and Maccabi its first lead, 25-23, at the end of the opening period.
Bluthenthal scored inside to get things going for Tel Aviv in the second period, but Le Mans hung tough with Clancy’s offensive rebound and basket making it 28-27. Halperin took advantage of a mismatch with Ricci to draw a foul and put the hosts up 5 from the line and then Bluthenthal drilled as Maccabi gained the upper hand. Bogavac’s hustle inspired the rest of the Le Mans defense, leading to a Koffi basket an a Batum slam, bringing the visitors within 35-33. Despite another Tel Aviv timeout, Le Mans remained in control on defense and a Bogdnovic triple knotted the score at 36-36 and Bogavac’s free throws restored the visitors’ lead. Maccabi turned to Vujcic inside and a Terence Morris block on defense lifted the crowd, leading to a Sharp three. Antoine Diot’s transition basket put Le Mans up once more, 41-42, and after Bluthenthal missed from the corner, it remained that way at halftime.
Batum fired a three early in the third period to show that Le Mans meant business. Sharp answered in form, but an energized Clancy threw down a two-handed jam for a 46-49 advantage for the visitors. Bluthenthal’s jump hook was met by Bogavac free throws. Then Clancy banked in a jumper to hush the crowd. Bogavac added a triple to cap a 0-7 spurt that made it 48-56. Sharp stepped up on both ends with a short jumper and a steal, but he went to the well once too many and hiss missed three led to a Koffi score on the offensive boards. Koffi added a baseline jumper to give Le Mans its first double-digit lead. Maccabi called upon Esteban Batista to change things, but he was no factor as Batum kept the visitors in control. In the closing seconds of the period, Clancy was called for an unsportsmanlike foul on Lior Eliyahu, which led to 2 free throws and a Sharp buzzer-beater to give the Israeli champs some momentum heading into the last 10 minutes down 56-62
The fourth quarter got off to a slow start with neither scoring for the first two-and-a-half minutes. Bogdanovic fired in a three that silenced the arena, but Eliyahu threw down a rim-rocker and Bluthenthal hit a baseline jumper to bring Maccabi within 5. Clancy came back with a slam, after which he let out a scream, however Vujcic responded calmly and then Cumming fed Eliyahu for an easy two. The fans rose to their feet after a defensive stop and Vujcic hit a triple from the top of the key to cap a 7-0 spurt and tie the game at 67-67. After a Le Mans timeout, Raviv Limonad scored, but Vujcic fed Eliyahu to keep things even with three minutes to go. Eliyahu then blocked Limonad from behind and Halperin put Maccabi up for the first time since the second quarter with two free throws. Both teams suddenly went cold and it was Clancy that bounced back to tie it again with 56 seconds left. An offensive foul on Bluthenthal gave Le Mans a chance to regain the lead. The visitors held on for the last shot, but Halperin stripped Bogavac and fed Morris for a wide-open layup to change the outcome of the game. Le Mans had one more sot, but Halperin stole the ball again and made a free throw with 3.3 seconds left to secure the win.
Thursday, October 25, 2007