American spice turn Slingers red-hot
Returning American imports fuel Slingers, once again
KINMEN KAOLIANG LIQUOR 71
SINGAPORE SLINGERS 79
The Singapore Slingers got off to a winning start in the Merlion Cup last night when they beat Taiwan's Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor 79-71 in their Group A opener at the OCBC Arena Hall 1.
As the action unfolded, it quickly became clear that the Slingers' two returning imports will have to play a big part if the team are to enjoy success this season.
Big centre Justin Howard and swingman Xavier Alexander - both Americans - were instrumental in the Slingers' brave run in the Asean Basketball League last term, and again they came up huge last night.
While the 2.11-metre Howard chipped in with 20 points and a game-high 17 rebounds, Alexander - affectionately known as X - was also red-hot in front of around 1,000 supporters.
The 27-year-old shot nine-for-14 for a game-high 64 per cent field goal percentage, contributing 21 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
"It feels great to be back. There was a little bit of rust and excitement at the start, but I shook those off and got going," said Alexander.
"It's just what I do, feeding off my teammates' confidence. We are undersized compared to the other teams, so I'll try to use my speed to help my team out.
"We had a great season earlier this year, but we start from scratch now. We'll play hard and give all our opponents a tough fight.
"It was good to get back to winning ways and now we look forward to taking on the Shanghai Sharks on Friday."
With good defence, the Slingers got off to a flying start when they took a 22-13 lead in the first quarter, which expanded to a 45-28 advantage at the end of the first half.
Kinmen made more of a fist of the game in the second half as their American forward Marcus Melvin exploded into life with a game-high 26 points but, in truth, the Slingers were guilty of complacency after their first-half domination.
Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang said: "We started well, but were sloppy in the third quarter. We didn't work as a team and tried to force through individually instead.
"Maybe it was because we were up by 17 at half-time, so we thought we could go at our opponents individually. We became slack and allowed our opponents to come back.
"It's good to have Justin and X back, but you can see they are not physically fit yet. Jeff (Viernes) also tried hard to impress, but this is only the first game and we have to give them time.
"I thought (forward) Leon Kwek stepped up and had a good game with 10 points.
"But still, we have to improve against the Sharks. They are a bigger team so, if we cannot contain them, we must play zone defence."
The Slingers' third import, Filipino point guard Viernes, made a decent debut with seven points, four rebounds, four steals and two assists.
Said the 27-year-old: "I played terrible in the first half, you can call it first-game jitters. But I adjusted and improved in the second half. I didn't score too many points, but I facilitated our team plays well."
With the win, the Slingers are close to achieving their pre-tournament target of reaching the Merlion Cup semi-finals.
Neo hopes more fans will return to the OCBC Arena to re-create the vibrant, sold-out atmosphere at the ABL Finals in March.
He said: "The turnout was disappointing considering the tournament is making a return after a 20-year break.
"Even if it's not full house like the ABL Finals, I had hoped there would be at least 1,500, but it didn't happen. Let's hope it picks up over the next few days."
Meanwhile, in Group B action, Filipino side Mighty Sports beat South Korea's Seoul Samsung Thunders 92-87 in an enthralling encounter in which both teams traded leads before Mighty Sports pulled away towards the end.
- 6.30pm: Malaysia Dragons v Samsung Thunders
- 8.30pm: Shanghai Sharks v Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor
- 6.30pm: Mighty Sports v Malaysia Dragons
- 8.30pm: Singapore Slingers v Shanghai Sharks
- 6.30pm: Semi-final 1 - Group A runners-up v Group B champions
- 8:30pm: Semi-final 2 - Group A champions v Group B runners-up
- 1pm: 5th/6th play-off
- 3.30pm: 3rd/4th play-off
- 6pm: Final