SINGAPORE – After losing the first match of the Asean Basketball League Invitational leg in Kuala Lumpur, the Singapore Slingers’ grip on fourth spot was slipping.
The Macau Black Bears and Filipino side Zamboanga Valientes were breathing down their necks. Each team had 13 points, just one behind the Slingers. No wonder the Singapore side knew victory against the Black Bears was vital to staying in the top four and reaching the semi-finals.
For a while on Monday, that looked unlikely after a lacklustre first half which saw them trail 38-33 against the Black Bears.
But a team talk by coach Neo Beng Siang helped the Slingers rally together for a comeback 89-82 win to stretch their record to 6-4, widening the gap between both sides in the eight-team table.
Neo said: “I was very disappointed by their first-half performance, but they really came out and played (well) in the second.
“It was very important because we needed the win to stay in the play-off positions.
“During half-time, I gave them a scolding about hunger and how much we wanted (the win) and they trusted one another and stuck to our 1-3-1 zone defence.
“They just have to keep running and stay disciplined in offence (in the next match against Louvre Surabaya on Wednesday).”
The Slingers trailed from the get-go at the Maba Stadium, where both teams had patches of lax defending and sloppy passes. Moments of individual brilliance from Slingers import Chanceler Gettys, who racked up 12 points in the first quarter, meant the Slingers trailed only 19-16 at the interval.
They took the lead early in the second quarter, but crucial treys from Lao Chon Pong and Leong Kei Long helped the Black Bears widen their lead to 38-33 at half-time.
Lao stretched the gap to eight points shortly after the restart, but the Slingers went on a blazing 11-point run to snatch the lead.
The score remained close throughout, but the Slingers never let up on their tight defence and smooth transitions. With less than two minutes in the third period, two rushed attempts from Macau saw the Slingers convert twice on the counter to lead 56-51 and they never looked back.
The Black Bears’ American import DeAngelo Hamilton fouled out with over seven minutes left, and the Slingers took advantage of the 2.03m forward’s absence to run the floor while staying patient in their attacks. They amassed 54 rebounds in the game compared to their opponents’ 33.
Dubbed the “great wall of Singapore” by a commentator, Gettys collected a game-high 25 points and 16 rebounds to help the Slingers complete the comeback.
Fellow Americans Kentrell Barkley and Xavier Alexander finished with 23 and 15 points respectively, while Jackson Mah contributed 14 points, including three important baskets from beyond the arc.
Mah, 18, credited the team’s family-like relationship on and off the court for helping the team believe in each other, adding: “During half-time, coach said this game is very important for us and the win is not just for the coach but for the whole team.”
Gettys added: “We started out slow but came out in the second half with tons of energy and passion which led us to a win. My individual performance is a reflection of the team’s effort and energy.”