Lebanese star Saoud, Al Riyadi lead Strong Group to Dubai exit

Strong Group players and staff thank Filipino fans after their game against Lebanon’s Al Riyadi.

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, the United Arab Emirates.

The Philippine 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 only to fall victim to the hot hands of Saoud, who 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 that gave Al Riyadi a safe 95-83 lead from an 81-all count.

Saoud, who will lead Lebanon against Gilas Pilipinas on February 24 in the sixth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, finished with 41 points built on seven triples against the 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,” Tiu said. “Offense wasn’t the problem but we couldn’t get stops.

The young coach vowed to return fully prepared and much stronger next year as he thanked Filipino fans who bought expensive tickets to watch their games.

“Thank you to our Filipino fans for supporting us. We are sorry for the loss,” he said. “We will come back stronger for sure.”

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 a potshot at the referees.

“It didn’t help that we got cooked badly. I don’t know what game the refs we’re watching,” he said.
Wael Arakji, also a member of the Lebanese national team, and Atel Majok chipped in 13 points apiece while Gyok Haykchan added 12 points.

Al Riyadi went off to a hot start in the opening frame when it asserted its size advantage over the smaller Filipinos to build a 14-point lead after the first 10 minutes.

Strong Group—behind Nick Young, Justine Baltazar and Jerom Lastimosa—retaliated and went into a 13-2 tear to open the second quarter where they cut the lead to 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 advantage in the third quarter.

The celebration of the Filipino fans was cut short as Arakji and Saoud connived to put Al Riyadi back on the driver’s seat heading into the final frame where Saoud 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.

Image credits: Herbert Iponla


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