Basketball: Slingers suffer narrow ABL loss to Eastern following free-throw woes

Singapore Slingers' Kentrell Barkley (left) explodes into life with 22 points in the second half in the match against Hong Kong Eastern. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SLINGERS

SINGAPORE – In basketball, the free-throw line is also known as the charity stripe but, on Saturday, the Singapore Slingers’ lack of ruthlessness and accuracy from their free throws cost them dearly in the 85-83 Asean Basketball League (ABL) defeat by Hong Kong Eastern.

Neo Beng Siang’s men fought valiantly to overturn a 16-point deficit in the second quarter to lead by one near the end of the third quarter, but they were let down by 15 misses from their 30 free-throw attempts.

While their 64.3 per cent success rate from the line before this game was not spectacular, their below-average shooting proved to be the difference at the end.

Noting that more work needs to be done on their free throws, head coach Neo said: “50 per cent is pretty bad and our free-throw shooting killed us today.”

Eastern’s win sent them to the top of the eight-team ABL with a 7-2 record, while the Slingers (5-4) remain in fourth and will play sixth-placed Macau Black Bears (4-5) on Monday and seventh-placed Louvre Surabaya (1-8) on Wednesday before the circuit switches to Ho Chi Minh City from Feb 12-17.

The Slingers were restricted to just 52 points in their previous meeting against Eastern at the OCBC Arena in January but went out all guns blazing at the Maba Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

They led 27-24 after the first quarter as all five starters – Xavier Alexander, Kelvin Lim, Delvin Goh, Kentrell Barkley and Chanceler Gettys – found their range.

Alexander ended the contest with 20 points, Gettys contributed 22 and 10 rebounds while Lim and Goh added four and eight points respectively.

But they suddenly went cold and were outscored 26-10 in the next period as Eastern were paced by forward Dominic Gilbert, who grabbed 22 points in the first half en route to a game-high 28.

Neo made a key tactical switch from man-to-man defence to a 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone defence in the third quarter, which shut out Gilbert completely.

It was then Barkley’s turn to come alive.

After scoring just four points in the first half, the forward contributed 22 in the second half, including six in the final minute to set up a grandstand finish.

However, the Slingers’ profligacy from the free-throw line – Barkley made just four-of-10 while Gettys went three-of-seven – stood out against Eastern’s perfect eight-for-eight until the final moments, when they led 85-83.

With four seconds left, Eastern centre Chris Mclaughlin, who chipped in with 21 points and nine rebounds, missed both his free throws but no Slingers could beat forward Tonny Trocha-Morelos to the loose ball as Eastern held on for the narrow win.

Neo found positives from the loss and said: “I’m pretty happy with every quarter except for the second, in which we were not aggressive enough defensively and we were not making shots from the outside.

“Credit to the players, they trusted and believed to stay on the zone defence to hang in there throughout the rest of the game.

“We still believe we can finish in the top four and make the semi-finals, but we need to take care of business on our end.”

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