Asian basketball

Heartbreaker: 30-year pro Somaa crushes Strong Group title push off buzzer-beater 3

JR Isaga

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Heartbreaker: 30-year pro Somaa crushes Strong Group title push off buzzer-beater 3

THRILLER. Strong Group's Jordan Heading (right) and Kevin Quiambao defend against Al Riyadi-Lebanon in the knockout finals.

UAE BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION

Strong Group-Philippines painfully falls short of its championship bid in Dubai as Al Riyadi-Lebanon sinks a game-winning three right at the buzzer

MANILA, Philippines – Age is just a number for Al Riyadi-Lebanon mainstay Ismail Ahmed Abdelmoneim.

More commonly known as Somaa, the 47-year-old Egyptian-Lebanese veteran provided the latest highlight in his storybook 30-year professional career, sinking a buzzer-beating three to help Al Riyadi retain its Dubai International Basketball Championship title and deal Strong Group-Philippines a 77-74 heartbreak.

Befitting the lofty billing of a knockout, winner-take-all final on Sunday, January 28 (Monday, January 29, Manila time), Al Riyadi and Strong Group weaved a thriller of an endgame that seemed unlikely as late as the third quarter.

Leading by as many as 19 at one point and by 17, 59-42, midway through the third, Al Riyadi saw its hold of the game quickly slip away, as Andre Roberson and Jordan Heading joined forces to spark a massive 23-2 rally bridging through the fourth to suddenly put Strong Group ahead, 65-61, with 8:25 to play.

Amid the nip-and-tuck endgame, Abdelmoneim then gave a prelude to his heroic finale with a crucial block on Roberson at the 3:26 mark, ultimately leading to a 24-second shot clock violation and opening the door for an Amir Saoud three for the 72-67 Al Riyadi lead.

Strong Group gave one last push and again tied the game up, 74-all, off a Heading three with 57.1 seconds remaining, but the comeback just fell short as Roberson clanked his potential title-winning three with 11 ticks left.

Off a Wael Arakji rebound, Abdelmoneim then showed him how it’s done on the other end as Al Riyadi fans erupted in a raucous frenzy at the buzzer, leaving Filipino fans in stunned silence amid the chaos.

Former PBA import Manny Harris topscored for the champions’ side with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, while Lebanese star Arakji spearheaded the early pileup with 14 of his 16 points coming in the first half alone.

Abdelmoneim gave 16 quality minutes off the bench to finish with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting and 2-of-2 from beyond the arc.

Roberson saved his best game for last with a 24-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Dwight Howard and Heading scored 18 and 17, respectively.

Buried at the bottom of the scoresheet, surprisingly, is Strong Group top scorer Kevin Quiambao, who capped off a standout tournament run with an anticlimactic 0-point line on 0-of-5 shooting in more than 37 minutes of action.

Former PBA import McKenzie Moore added 12 points off the bench, but his night was prematurely cut short after suffering an apparent non-contact right thigh injury while on a fastbreak at the 4:46 mark of the final frame.

This marks Strong Group’s second failed Dubai tournament push after its 2023 campaign also ended in a disappointing quarterfinal exit, all while having former NBA gunners Nick Young and Shabazz Muhammad.

The Philippines last won the annual pocket tournament in 2020, when the likes of Renaldo Balkman and current Strong Group veteran Andray Blatche led the way under the Mighty Sports banner.

The Scores

Al Riyadi-Lebanon 77 – Harris 23, Arakji 16, Abdelmoneim 10, Kikanovic 7, Zeinoun 6, Gyokchyan 5, Sakakini 5, Saoud 3, Tabbara 0.

Strong Group-Philippines 74 – Roberson 24, Howard 18, Heading 17, Moore 12, Blatche 3, Quiambao 0, Baltazar 0, Cagulangan 0, Escandor 0.

Quarters: 22-12, 46-32, 61-57, 77-74.

– Rappler.com

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