Bronze may mark end of an era for Singapore cagers

Men cagers earn second successive bronze but could lose coach, captain

IT WAS a bittersweet night for the Singapore men's basketball team, even as they bagged their second successive SEA Games bronze at the OCBC Arena yesterday.

The hosts edged out Thailand in a 54-49 thriller, making up for the disappointment of the day before when they missed out on a chance for gold by losing to Indonesia in the semi-final.

Yet, yesterday's match could spell the end of an era, with both coach Neo Beng Siang and captain Desmond Oh, who turns 29 today, considering their futures.

An exhausted Neo said after the game: "The coaches' contract ends after the SEA Games, and I'm not sure what the future holds. I need to take a break from basketball and go on a holiday. After that, we will see."

Oh, who sat out the game after suffering a neck injury in the semi-final loss to Indonesia, said: "Basketball is my biggest passion, but my wife is expecting, and I need to stop for a while and think about the second stage of my life.

"I can't play forever."

If it is indeed goodbye for the duo, at least the team gave them a decent farewell gift, bagging the bronze against a Thai team who led by 10 points at one stage.

Singapore, who were missing both Oh and forward Lim Shengyu (ankle injury), were slow from the tip-off, allowing Thailand to lead 31-25 at half-time.

Said Neo: "I told them that we are playing for the country, not for individual glory. They started performing only in the third quarter.

"But I'm proud of how the boys never gave up."

Larry Liew bailed Singapore out with a team-high 18 points, but he fouled out late in the fourth quarter to give the hosts a mild scare.

Singapore had centres Delvin Goh and Russel Low to thank.

Goh sank two clutch free throws with 16 seconds remaining to make it 52-49, while Low had a big game in the paint with nine rebounds and four blocks.

Said Neo: "I'm disappointed that we didn't reach the final, but the team did great to win two consecutive bronzes.

"They showed they have a lot of potential, and I hope they will get more support to help them improve."

Next up for Singapore is the Fiba Asia Championship in September in Changsha, China.

In the final, the Philippines beat Indonesia 72-64 to win their 16th SEA Games title.

siangyee@sph.com.sg

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