SINGAPORE - Singapore Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang has cut a frustrated figure too many times for his liking this season, even after victories, as his team were frequently building and frittering away double-digit leads during their Asean Basketball League (ABL) games.
Hence it was a welcome change when the 51-year-old broke into a satisfied smile at the end of their 95-76 win over CLS Knights Indonesia at the OCBC Arena on Sunday (Feb 3).
The Slingers stretched their two-point first-quarter lead into a 20-point gap by half-time and never looked back as they halted the Knights' streak of seven successive victories, the longest winning run this season.
The win propelled his team to third place in the 10-team ABL with a 9-6 win-loss record, and Neo said: "I'm pretty happy with the result. We came out strong at the start and stuck together throughout the game which was really good.
"We need to stay focused and play as a team like this every game."
The Slingers were aggressive from tip-off and quickly drew three fouls in the first half from 2.13m Knights centre Darryl Watkins, who would have scored more than 18 points if he did not spend more than 10 minutes on the bench due to early foul trouble.
The hosts capitalised on their height advantage, with their 2.0m centre John Fields a constant thorn under the basket with 24 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks. Fellow American Xavier Alexander also put in an all-action shift with 21 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists.
But it was their compatriot Jerran Young who stole the show with his red-hot shooting from within and outside the arc as he converted 15 of his 24 field-goal attempts.
He finished with an ABL career-high 36 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists.
Knights' captain and former Slinger Wong Wei Long had a game to forget as he missed all five field-goal shots and scored just four points from free throws, a far cry from the 18 he plundered when his team beat the Singapore side 89-74 last month.
Point guard Desmond Oh, a key part of the Slingers defence that restricted the Knights to under 80 points for only the fourth time in 17 games, said this win will boost the festive mood within the camp even if they have to travel to Thailand and play Mono Vampire on Wednesday (Feb 6), the second day of the Lunar New Year.
The 32-year-old said: "The second quarter was the key. We led by 20 points and that really brought us through the third and fourth quarters. We stepped up our defence and made good stops.
"We are used to spending holidays away because of competitions. As long as we keep winning, we will celebrate over there."