Slingers to face Mighty Sports in semis
Against top quality, Neo's Slingers hold their own for much of the way
SINGAPORE SLINGERS 67
SHANGHAI SHARKS 89
They faced a team that featured a former NBA player and another standout who was selected 16th overall in the 2016 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics.
Other members of the Shanghai Sharks basketball club were either current or former Chinese internationals.
Few would have given the Singapore Slingers any chance of pulling off a victory, but the local franchise played their hearts out in what in the end was an 89-67 defeat at the OCBC Arena Hall 1 last night.
The Slingers led for most of the first quarter of the Merlion Cup encounter and even clawed back a 10-point deficit to level the tie at 43-43 in the third quarter, before the favourites pulled away in the final quarter.
With two wins out of two matches, the Sharks top Group A and will take on Group B runners-up Seoul Samsung Thunders of South Korea in the semi-finals tonight. The Slingers, the Group A runners-up, will take on Filipino side Mighty Sports.
Speaking after last night's tough encounter, Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang said: "We did well for most parts and then fell apart. We showed good fighting spirit right up to the third quarter.
"The turning points were the unsportsmanlike foul, the three pointers and they converted almost all their free throws."
With more than four minutes to go in the third quarter and the match finely-poised at 47-45 in favour of the visitors, Slingers swingman Xavier Alexander was adjudged to have intentionally fouled Sharks forward Cai Liang.
Alexander had scored 10 points in the quarter at that point, but with two free throws and possession awarded to the Sharks, the Slingers lost their momentum.
The 27-year-old American, who posted 20 points and 10 rebounds by the end of the game, said: "I don't think there was much in that incident, but their physicality off all positions took a toll on us. By the end of the third quarter, we didn't respond.
"We could have finished better but I love the way we fought for most of the match. We don't play teams of this calibre in the Asean Basketball League and this will only be good for me and the team."
Indeed, the Sharks' illustrious imports played a big role in their win.
American guard Jimmer Fredette, who played for the Sacramento Kings, Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Pelicans and the New York Knicks, and French power forward Guerschon Yabusele, who recently turned down a contract from the Boston Celtics, both contributed a game-high 29 points.
Fredette made nine out of 10 free throws, while Yabusele was a beast under both baskets, pulling down 13 rebounds.
"The Slingers are a good team and we needed to be more aggressive in offence and defence, get more rebounds and make them foul more to win," said the 20-year-old Yabusele.
Current China international, point guard Liu Xiaoyu, contributed five points, four rebounds and three assists, while 2.21m former China centre Zhang Zhaoxu chipped in six points and six rebounds.
As Neo pointed out, the Sharks converted 29 of 35 free throws while the Slingers managed only 16 out of 20. Beyond the arc, the hosts dropped just three three-pointers from 17 attempts compared to eight-for-22 for the visitors.
These are areas the Slingers have to improve ahead of tonight's semi-final, and Neo said: "Mighty Sports are a very strong and athletic team. They also have a strong bench. We have to be ready for possibly a tougher match than the one we had against the Sharks."