By Amy Samin
Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv got off to a great start in the Euroleague Top 16 with an 84 – 76 win over Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania. Demond Mallet was one of four players who scored in double digits, with 15 points. Joining him were Lior Eliyahu with 14, Langford with 12, and Hendrix with 11. Next week Regal Barcelona will come to Nokia Arena for a battle of the giants. But before that, Maccabi will face Partizan Belgrade in an Adriatic League game in Serbia on Saturday.
Demond Mallet, Devin Smith, Keith Langford, Sofo Schortsanitis and Lior Eliyahu started the game for Maccabi. The home team jumped to an early 7 – 6 lead, but two straight three pointers from Mallet at the top of the arc put Maccabi up 12 – 7 four minutes into the period. Richard Hendrix came into the game following a timeout and immediately slammed in a one-handed dunk off a dish from Eliyahu, and Langford scored two layups to make it 18 – 14 with three minutes left in the quarter. A huge three by Smith on the right side ended the period with Maccabi leading 23 – 16.
Ohayon and David Blu (who sank a mid-range baseline jumper off an assist by Langford) extended Maccabi’s lead to ten, 26 – 16 just a minute and twenty seconds into the second quarter. Maccabi’s defense put the brakes on the Lithuanians’ offense, while Langford, Sofo and Eliyahu combined to make it 34 – 22 three minutes later. Mallet’s third trey on the night was followed by points from downtown by Jon Scheyer, putting Maccabi’s lead at 42 – 28 with less than three minutes remaining in the half. Hendrix scored off a dime from Smith, but Zalgiris managed to narrow the gap with points from Robertas Javtokas and Mantas Kalnietis. Theo Papaloukas scored at the buzzer on a drive in the lane to send the teams into the halftime break with Maccabi leading 48 – 37.
The third period began with Zalgiris playing strong under the basket and Paulius Jankūnas exchanging baskets with Eliyahu and Hendrix; after three and a half minutes the score was 54 – 46. The home team continued to battle their way back into the game, with points by Marko Popović from the charity stripe making it 54 – 50 with four minutes left in the quarter. Sofo followed up a bucket and 1 with a steal and more points to give Maccabi some breathing room, 62 – 52 with 2:20 left on the clock. Five straight points from Raković and two from Popović made it 62 – 57 with less than half a minute remaining, Ohayon’s pair from the foul line were met by yet another bucket from Raković, and the third quarter ended with Maccabi up by three, 64 – 61.
Blu scored at the start of the fourth quarter while Mallet and Langford pulled down key defensive boards to deny Zalgiris second chances at narrowing the gap. But DeJuan Collins scored from outside the arc to put the hosts within one possession of taking the lead. Blu added a stop-and-pop for two, while Mallet took another defensive rebound and Smith grabbed a steal. Points from Mallet (assist Hendrix) set the score at 71 – 66 near the halfway mark in the period. Popović and company weren’t ready to give up though, with the Croatian guard sinking a three pointer to once again put his team within striking distance of taking the lead. Following a time out, Hendrix grabbed a steal and later scored (assist Langford) to make it 73 – 69 with just under three and a half minutes remaining. Hendrix’s impressive defensive game shut down Zalgiris’ offense in those final minutes, while Langford added a slick reverse layup and two free throws; with a minute left Maccabi led 79 – 74. Popović scored with 37 seconds on the clock to make it 80 – 76, but shortly after Ohayon pulled down a key defensive board with only 11 seconds left to deny the hosts another opportunity. Ohayon went on to score once from the foul line, and Smith tipped in the missed second free throw as time ran out, giving Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv an 84 – 76 victory over Zalgiris Kaunas in game one of the Top 16 round.
Maccabi: Mallet 15 points; Eliyahu 14 points; Langford 12 points, 7 assists; Hendrix 11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks; Schortsanitis 8 points; Smith 7 points; Ohayon 6 points; Blu 6 points; Scheyer 3 points; Papaloukas 2 points.
Top scorers for Zalgiris: .Raković 15 points; Popović 14 points.