by Rey C. Lachica
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Mighty Sports put on another courageous showing but this time it fell short, losing to a team regarded as “Barangay Ginebra” of Lebanon Friday night.
With their shooters waxing hot from afar through well-planned ball screens, Al Riyadi ended the fairy tale run of Mighty Sports with a thrilling 89-84 win to set up an all-Lebanese title showdown in the 30th Dubai International Basketball Championship at the Shabab Al Ahli Club here.
The Mighty Sports dribblers fell into a deep 23-point hole (63-40) after the Al Riyadi cagers opened the second half with three booming triples in a row that silenced the predominantly Filipino crowd.
Egged on by the crowd, the Mighty Sports dribblers, backed by Go For Gold, SMDC, Oriental Group and Healthcube, rallied and managed to cut the deficit down to 84-78 through the efforts of imports Justin Brownlee and Randolph Morris and Fil-Ams Jeremiah Gray and Roosevelt Adams.
But Mighty Sports’ hopes of advancing to the final of this annual tournament eventually vanished into thin air after import Christopher Obekpa completed a three-point play off Brownlee’s foul, 87-78, with a little over two minutes left.
The loss, however, hardly mattered to more than 1,000 Filipino fans – some went home early after they failed to buy tickets – as they witnessed the indomitable Filipino spirit in the face of great odds.
Even Mighty Sports co-team owner Caesar Wongchuking already called its campaign here a success although the team will still play Homenetmen – also of Lebanon – for third place on Saturday.
“We did our best, we gave our ‘kababayans’ an honest-to-goodness entertainment,” said Wongchuking, who co-owns the team with brother Alex.
Coach Charles Tiu offered no excuses, and like the team owners, he hailed the valiant effort of the team.
“I like the way we fought back,” Tiu said after the game. “You have to appreciate the effort of the guys. Medyo naunahan lang kami sa start, We couldn’t defend their ball screens. Their shooters were hot.”
All told, Al Riyadi, who beat Mighty 100-95, two years ago, banged in 14 triples, including four in a decisive run in the second quarter that gave them a 54-40 halftime advantage.
In contrast, the Mighty dribblers managed only this six triples – a far cry from 16 they made in a 108-94 demolition of Oil Sports Club of Iraq.
Brownlee finished with 24 points while the 6-foot-10 Morris quietly contributed 21 after being held to just 7 points in the first two quarters – a victim of Al Riyadi’s air-tight defense.
AL RIYADI 89 – Arakji 23, Johnson 20, Saoud 12, Abdelnour 10, Abdelmoneim 9, Gyokchyan 8, Obekpa 7, Bowjee 0, Khatib 0.
MIGHTY SPORTS 84 – Brownlee 24, Morris 21, Gray 17, De Liano 8, Brickman 8, Adams 4, Santillan 2, Odom 0, Banal 0.
Quarters: 26-20, 54-40, 76-67, 89-84.