SINGAPORE – A late collapse by the Singapore Slingers led to a defeat by the Saigon Heat in the Asean Basketball League Invitational on Wednesday.
But, with a semi-final spot on the line against the Zamboanga Valientes, they made sure there was no repeat of that.
With pure determination and grit at the Nguyen Du Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday, the Slingers claimed a 97-87 win, which saw them join Saigon Heat, NS Matrix Malaysia and Hong Kong Eastern in the ABL play-offs.
American shooting guard Kentrell Barkley, who contributed a game-high 41 points, was never in doubt the Singapore side would pull through.
The 26-year-old said: “We all believe in what we’re capable of as a team. The belief comes with the hard work we put in every day and giving each other confidence.
“Tonight was more about who wanted the game more and we made sure we continued to lock in on defence and pay attention to the game plan.”
It was a close game from the start, with both teams taking turns to sink baskets, but the Valientes eventually got the edge, leading 26-24 at the first interval.
Never one to back down, the Slingers bounced right back, scoring 10 consecutive points to lead 40-35 in the second quarter.
But, with a play-off spot awaiting the winners, the Philippine team barrelled their way through the Slingers defence to level at 49-all at half-time.
The Slingers kept their eye on the ball on the restart and maintained a tight defence to amass a 72-64 lead.
But a momentary lapse allowed the Valientes to step up, taking the score to 72-all with 39 seconds to go in the third quarter.
The Philippine side were unable to continue their momentum, however, as Puerto Rican Renaldo Miguel Balkman missed two free throws that would have levelled the score again.
Instead, Slingers import Chanceler Gettys sank a buzzer beater from beyond the arc to give his side a 77-72 lead going into the last quarter.
While they had previously struggled with the Valientes’ physicality, the Slingers remained strong this time and ran the floor well to tire out their opponents to clinch victory and a semi-final spot.
Gettys contributed 24 points, 18 rebounds and six assists, while Xavier Alexander finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Coach Neo Beng Siang praised his charges for their teamwork, even as he made several tactical switches. He also reminded the team to limit their opponents’ opportunities for treys while executing their own offence well.
He said: “They were tired yesterday, but I’m happy they stayed together to take the win. I emphasised on the physicality of the opponents, that’s something we mentioned a lot to take note of.
“Now we have about two weeks to prepare for the semi-finals and I’m confident we can get to the final.”
The fourth-placed Slingers will face Saigon Heat in the semi-finals if the Vietnamese team, who lead the eight-team league, finish top after their final game against Louvre Surabaya on Friday.
The semi-finals will be in Ho Chi Minh City in March, with the dates to be announced.
Delvin Goh, while pleased to reach the semi-finals, stressed that the job is not done until they clinch the title. He and his teammates merely exchanged handshakes instead of erupting in celebration at the final buzzer.
He said: “We made sure we were the hungrier team in the second half. We knew they were tired, but we were just getting started. So we kept running and trusting each other.
“We can be happy for sure, but the ultimate goal isn’t fulfilled yet. We just have to keep going and the celebrations can come later when we finally win it all.”