Strong Group-Philippines found Al Riyadi star Amir Saoud too hot to handle and suffered a heartbreaking 107-97 defeat in their quarterfinal showdown in the 32nd Dubai International Basketball Championship early Friday at the Al Nasr Club Hall in Dubai, UAE.
The PH ball club put up a gallant stand when it wheeled back from a 14-point deficit early on before holding its ground against the taller and heftier Lebanese squad only to fall victim to the hot hands of Saoud who then took over for Al Riyadi in the fourth quarter.
The dead shot of the Lebanon national team erupted for 17 points of his team’s 32 in the final frame, including a pivotal five straight points that capped a telling 14-2 run, giving Al Riyadi a safe 95-83 lead from an 81-all count midway through the payoff period.
Saoud, who will lead Lebanon against Gilas Pilipinas on Feb. 24 in the Window 6 of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, went on to finish with 41 points built on seven triples against a team owned by Frank and Jacob Lao and backed by Mighty Sports and Acrocity.
Strong Group coach Charles Tiu admitted it was Saoud who did them in.
“Painful and frustrating loss for us. Couldn’t stop Saoud today no matter what we did. Just too experienced for our team right now. Offense wasn’t the problem but couldn’t get stops,” said Tiu.
The young coach vowed to return fully prepared and much stronger next year even as he thanked Filipino fans who bought expensive tickets to watch their game.
“Thank you to our Filipino fans for supporting us. We are sorry for the loss. We will come back stronger for sure,” added Tiu.
Saoud was ably supported by import Dominic Johnson, who added 23 points and seven rebounds as Al Riyadi exacted sweet revenge against a Philippine team after Mighty Sports denied it the title in the final of the 31st edition of the tournament.
Tiu, however, took potshots at the referees, saying: “Didn’t help that we got cooked badly. I don’t know what game the refs we’re watching.”
Wael Arakji, also a member of the Lebanese national team, and Atel Majok chipped in 13 points apiece while Gyok Haykchan added 12.
Al Riyadi went off to a hot start in the opening frame when it quickly asserted its size advantage over the smaller Filipinos to build a 14 point lead after the first 10 minutes of the contest.
Strong Group behind Nick Young, Justine Baltazar and Jerom Lastimosa, retaliated and went into a 13-2 tear to open the second canto, cutting the lead down to just three, 39-36.
It was a nip-and-tuck affair from there before Strong Group utilized its speed to its full potential to even take a 63-58 lead in the third.
The celebration of the Filipino fans was cut short as Arakji and Saoud connived to put Al Riyadi back at the driver’s seat heading into the final frame where Saoud just completely owned the show with his torrid shooting.
Muhammad paced the Philippine representatives with 27 points and seven rebounds while Renaldo Balkman posted a double-double of 16 points and 15 rebounds in a losing cause.