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Maccabi Tel Aviv earned a thrilling, yet untidy 80-74 victory over Benetton Treviso of Italy in Euroleague action last night.

Over 10,000 noisy fans at Yad Eliahu watched their heroes pave the way for a first-place finish in preliminary group A, which should make life easier in the next stage of the competition. The six-point margin was two more than Benetton's four-point victory over Maccabi in the first leg in Italy, which will give Tel Aviv an advantage when the final table is calculated.

Next week, Maccabi plays Olympiakos in Athens, but even if Tel Aviv loses, a home victory the following week over Efes Pilsen of Turkey will ensure a top finish in Group A.

Maccabi came up against one of the best teams in Europe last night, and with former NBA point guard Tyus Edney leading Benetton, the game was no easy stroll. Edney scored 22 points and had eight assists, holding the Italians together almost single-handedly in the third quarter as Mike D'Antoni's charges looked to be on the verge of total collapse.

Maccabi chalked up its victory to better defense. Benetton is an excellent outfit, but its soft defense against Maccabi, a team hell-bent on dominating the Euroleague, was not enough last night. Perhaps the early injury to Marcelo Marconato made the difference as Yoav Safar and Gur Shelef found an easy way to the basket. Shelef ended with 16 points and six rebounds.

Arriel McDonald showed that he has returned to form, while Maccabi's best player of late, Anthony Parker grabbed 11 rebounds.

Excellent defensive work in the third quarter did the trick as Benetton's players scored only 14 points.

Maccabi stuttered at first as the Italians led 8-2and 25-16 at the end of the first quarter before a strong second quarter by Nate Huffman and McDonald saw Maccabi into the game. It was close until halftime, when Maccabi held a 45-43 lead.