Slingers miss out on Merlion Cup final after losing by two points
MIGHTY SPORTS 72
SINGAPORE SLINGERS 70
With 16.1 seconds left, and down 70-72, the Singapore Slingers had possession and the opportunity to take the Merlion Cup semi-final match against Filipino side Mighty Sports into over-time.
But, although the ball was out of play, Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang ran out of time-outs to make a play after using all three in the second half, twice to break the opponents' momentum and once to tend to swingman Xavier Alexander's bleeding right hand.
Alexander, as he had done throughout this tournament, had another big game on Saturday (Sept 24) with 20 points and 12 rebounds, drove into the paint but passed it out to teammate Jeff Viernes.
The diminutive point guard went for the basket but was caught for a double dribble, effectively ending the contest, which the underdogs could have won late in front of 1,800 fans at the OCBC Arena Hall 1 to qualify for today's final.
Instead, they will play for third place against South Korea's Seoul Samsung Thunders, as Mighty Sports face China's Shanghai Sharks for the Merlion Cup trophy, after the Sharks beat the Thunders 76-70 on the back of point guard Jimmy Fredette's 34-point performance.
Despite such drama, such fine margins and such heartbreak, Neo refused to pin the blame on any single player.
He said: "I'm not happy we lost a game that was there for the taking.
"Although we met our target of making the semi-finals, you can see our disappointment because we were so close to the final.
"The luck was just not there for us and their shooting guard Dewarick Spencer had to pick this game to score a game-high 31 points and go 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
"But our players fought hard and we played good defence.
"Hopefully, this kind of spirited performance against a strong team will help to bring back the fans to support local basketball.
"We are heartbroken, but we need to bounce back and fight like we did today in the third-fourth play-off."
It was an thrilling encounter in which Mighty Sports raced to a 7-0 lead to win the first quarter 21-15, before the Slingers awoke from their slumber to go on a 8-0 run in the second quarter to lead 36-33 at half-time.
That advantage expanded to nine points at the start of the third quarter, before Mighty Sports went on their own 18-2 run to open up a 58-46 lead.
The lead would continue to change hands numerous times, before another key moment potentially turned the match in the visitors' favour.
With 5:45 to go, and the Slingers leading 61-59, Kiefer Ravena caught Viernes in the throat but the referee did not call for a flagrant foul.
Three-point shooting was also crucial in determining the final outcome.
Big centre Justin Howard dropped an unexpected three-pointer to give the Slingers the lead for the last time at 68-67, with 1:25 on the clock.
But forward Wu Qingde could not find his scoring touch from beyond the arc with 1:06 left, as Mighty Sports guard Joseph Yeo drained his only three of the match 42 seconds before the end to help his team pull away to a 72-68 lead that ultimately proved insurmountable.
"We made some key possession mistakes and didn't make any baskets in some periods, but we played good defence and I'm proud of how we played overall," said Howard, who grabbed 24 points and a game-high 20 rebounds.
- 1pm: 5th/6th play-off - Westports Malaysia Dragons v Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor
- 3.30pm: 3rd/4th play-off - Singapore Slingers v Seoul Samsung Thunders
- 6pm: Final - Shanghai Sharks v Mighty Sports.