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Strong Group suffers a heartbreak against Al Riyadi

by Bryan Gadingan

STRONG GROUP ATHLETICS endured another misery in the finals of the 33rd Dubai International Basketball Championships, losing 74-77 against Al Riyadi after a buzzer-beating three-pointer.

Strong Group was unable to complete their revenge tour against the same team who ousted them in the quarterfinals the previous season, resulting in their first loss and the most difficult way to bear it.

The defending champion, Al Riyadi, was the same side who defeated Strong Group in the quarterfinals of the 2023 edition and went on to win the tournament overall.

Al Riyadi began the first quarter with an aggressive style, attacking the basket and capitalizing on any fastbreak opportunity provided by Strong Group. This enabled them to complete the quarter with a 12-22 edge.

Strong Group was able to make brief runs in the second quarter, but Al Riyadi had all of the answers as they maintained their aggressiveness, allowing them to lead 32-46 at halftime.

Photo Courtesy: UAE Basketball Association | Facebook

Strong Group was able to make a run and trim the game’s largest advantage to 10 with 2:37 minutes remaining in the third quarter, after a 20-point lead ballooned at the start of the second half.

Strong Group then came to life before the end of the third quarter, with McKenzie Moore and Jordan Heading hitting back-to-back threes, as well as an Andre Roberson attack, cutting the advantage to four points, 57-61.

Heading promptly made a corner three, followed by a Roberson three to take the lead for the first time in the game, 62-61, with less than 9 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Photo Courtesy: UAE Basketball Association | Facebook

Moore sustained a non-contact injury after he was spotted holding on to his hamstring. This resulted in the Philippine club team losing its leader during a critical stretch of the game.

Meanwhile, Harries continues his stellar play, burying a three to reclaim the lead from SGA. Howard ties the game after splitting his free throws, and Harries follows with two converted free throws to break the tie, 67–69.

Strong Group reverted to the play they had been running throughout the game and fed the ball down low to Howard, who scored the deuce to cut the margin to one.

Wael Arakji then broke SGA’s defense, giving him an open path to the basket and increasing their advantage to three points, 71–74. SGA called on all basketball Gods, and Heading hit a three to tie the game at 74-all.

In the final seconds of the fourth quarter, Arakji drove to the hoop but was stopped by Francis Escandor and Roberson, forcing him to kick the ball out to a wide-open Ismail Abdelmoneim, who sank the buzzer-beating three.

Harries led Al Riyadi with 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals, while regular Arakji contributed 16 points, three rebounds, and three assists, one of which was the game-winning assist.

On the other hand, Roberson led the Strong Group in scoring with 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 steals. Howard concluded with another double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds.

Heading and Moore struggled to shoot early in the game, but finished with 17 points and 2 rebounds and 12 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds, respectively.

Despite the loss, Strong Group put up a valiant fight from the end, overcoming the Lebanese squad’s massive 24-point lead.

Kevin Quiambao, who went scoreless and was clearly the game’s missing factor, received an award for being a member of the All-Tournament Team to finish off his great season with Strong Group Athletics.

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