By Amy Samin
An 82 - 74 road loss to Bennet Cantù puts Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv’s Euroleague Top 16 record at 1 – 2. The teams will meet again next Thursday at Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv, and Maccabi will have to beat the Italians by more than 8 points in order to have a chance of qualifying for the quarterfinals.
After the game, head coach David Blatt said, “It was a tough game; Cantù at home is a very tough team to beat. We were chasing them the whole game. I felt we were just a bit late on every play, we were slow and we didn’t reach the level of sharpness or the typical performance we’ve shown for most of the season. That says something, and we need to find the solution to the problem. The team is going through a rough period, but we will fight against this difficult period in the hope that we’ll come out at least as good as we’ve been, and get back to our usual standard.”
“The point spread is pretty big; we could have finished this game in a better position with another two or three possessions at the end of the game, but I believe that if we come to the game next Thursday in better physical shape, we can do it. Today we suffered from the fact that Langford wasn’t able to prepare for this game as usual due to illness, and from the fact that other players are tired which has an impact on your mental preparedness as well. This coming week we don’t have an Israeli League game, and we can finally prepare as we should, and also get a proper rest, before the big push we’ll have to make at Nokia Arena on Thursday when we face Cantù again.”
Richard Hendrix added, “Unfortunately, we lost the game. We had the chance to improve our situation in our group, but we didn’t take advantage of it. We know what we’re up against, and we’ll be coming back to Nokia knowing we need to defend our home court and play some good basketball. We’re hoping we can get back to a winning path starting with Ljubljana [who Maccabi faces on Saturday in the Adriatic League]. They’re a good team with a tough home court. With the schedule that we’ve got coming up, this is a good time to get the bad taste out of our mouths, and that’s what we’re expecting to do.”
Blatt’s starters were Theo Papaloukas, Devin Smith, Lior Eliyahu, Devin Smith, and Sofo Schortsanitis. Cantù got off to a strong start and took an 8 – 2 lead in the first two minutes of the game, but Sofo – who once played for Cantù – showed his usual skill under the basket and narrowed the gap to 12 – 8 with six and a half minutes left in the period. Gianluca Basile sank a three for the home team but was immediately answered by David Blu from the right corner, 15 – 11 Cantù. Sofo showed excellent hustle on defense, while Yogev Ohayon, Richard Hendrix and Keith Langford all scored to keep Maccabi close. The period ended with the hosts leading 23 – 20.
Maccabi grabbed a one point lead forty seconds into the second quarter off points by Sofo and Eliyahu, but Cantù quickly retook the lead and kept it. Halfway through the period the Italians’ lead had grown to double digits, 41 – 31. Points from downtown by Langford put the deficit below ten, 45 – 36 with two and a half minutes left until the break. Hendrix, Smith, and team captain Tal Burstein further whittled away at the gap, and when the half ended Maccabi trailed by only five, 49 – 44.
Points by Langford and Blu put Maccabi within two after four minutes of play in the third quarter, 52 – 50, but Basile responded with a three pointer. Mallet drained a trey from the right corner and Hendrix added a baseline slam to make it 59 – 57 with a minute and forty seconds left on the clock. Cantù responded again, but Mallet sank another three from the corner. Points by Greg Brunner gave the hosts some breathing room as the period ended, 66 – 60, Cantù.
The home team extended their lead in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, 70 – 60 after a minute of play. Hendrix, Smith and Langford all scored to put Maccabi within four, 70 – 66 with seven minutes left in the game. Maccabi was one shot away from making it a one-point game, but Cantù went on a 5 – 0 spree to reestablish their lead, 77 – 68 with three and a half minutes left. In the end time ran out for Maccabi as they suffered an 82 – 74 loss to Bennet Cantù in Italy.
Maccabi: Langford 16 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block; Hendrix 15 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1 steal; Schortsanitis 8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block; Mallet 8 points, 1 rebound; Blu 7 points, 5 rebounds; Eliyahu 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist; Smith 6 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist; Ohayon 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist; Burstein 4 points, 2 assists; Papaloukas 2 assists; Pnini 1 rebound.
Top scorers for Cantù: Micov 17 points; Basile 14 points; Shermadini 13 points.