Basketball: Coach Neo Beng Siang's pep talk works wonders as Slingers douse Saigon Heat to end losing run

Singapore Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang at the Asean Basketball League game on Jan 27, 2019.
Singapore Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang at the Asean Basketball League game on Jan 27, 2019.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Within the first eight minutes of their Asean Basketball League (ABL) game against Saigon Heat on Sunday (Jan 27), the Singapore Slingers had built up a 25-2 lead at the OCBC Arena, and they possibly thought they already had the win in the bag.

At half-time, there was still no indication of a slip-up as they maintained the wide gap at 51-29 with stifling defence and clinical finishing - centre John Fields led the way with seven of his eight field-goal attempts in the first two periods.

Then, almost inexplicably, as Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang put it, an "unacceptable disaster" struck in the next quarter as previously telepathic teammates turned into stunned strangers.

Passes went astray, screens were not set up, and they even managed to get into each other's way while running into positions as the Heat went on a 33-10 run to take a 62-61 lead.

The Heat's imports Trevon Hughes, Murphy Burnatowski and Kyle Barone contributed 26 points in that run.

But, unlike previous late collapses, at least there were 10 more minutes for Neo to rally his troops.

And the Slingers arose from their slumber to win 87-80 to improve their win-loss record to 8-6 and climb to fourth in the 10-team ABL, behind Alab Pilipinas (10-2), Heat and Formosa Dreamers (both 10-5).

Neo said: "Instead of pushing the ball up the court quickly, we were walking. So we didn't get what we wanted in offence, and then everyone stopped playing defence.

"I told them we needed to increase our tempo, win it for the fans and stop our run of two defeats (against Mono Vampire and CLS Knights Indonesia)."

Xavier Alexander (25 points) continued his tantalising duel with Heat guard Hughes (24 points) - both were called for a technical foul at half-time for a scuffle - in the final quarter, but it was the Slingers swingman who was better supported by teammates at the end.

Fellow Americans Fields (20 points and 21 rebounds) and Jerran Young (21 points) recorded big numbers, but the likes of veteran guard Desmond Oh (10 points) and power forward Delvin Goh (11 points and 10 rebounds) also stepped up.

Young said: "Adversity is part of basketball. We can't get too big on our ups and too low with our downs.

"We continued to communicate, kept our poise, played good defence and tried to execute our plays. Eventually, the game went our way because we stayed aggressive."

The Slingers will take on the Knights on Sunday (Feb 3) at the OCBC Arena.

They will again face their former player Wong Wei Long, who scored 18 points, including three treys that gave him the all-time ABL record of 215 three-pointers in the Indonesian side's 89-74 win on Jan 20.