SINGAPORE – At the start of each Singapore Slingers game this season, Jackson Mah found himself cheering on his teammates from the bench.
On Wednesday, the 18-year-old was on Kuala Lumpur’s Maba Stadium court instead, preparing for tip-off against Louvre Surabaya in the Asean Basketball League Invitational.
He had featured in all nine previous games as a substitute, scoring double digits in three of them.
He was rewarded with his first start in his debut season by coach Neo Beng Siang, replacing Kelvin Lim.
He then shrugged off his nerves to score the first six points of the match and eventually contributed 17 points to help the Slingers thrash Surabaya 147-89.
A pleased Mah said: “I was surprised when (I found out that I was starting) and I was nervous.
“But I tried not to think about it and just told myself to (be focused) on court.
“I want to improve more on my defence and I will keep working hard no matter what.”
Mah helped the Slingers race to an 8-0 lead, before Surabaya reduced it to just five points at 25-20 at the end of the first quarter.
However, the Indonesian side were unable to take that momentum into the second quarter.
They struggled and converted just 35 per cent of their field-goal attempts compared to the Slingers’ 65 per cent.
The Slingers, who had a whopping 70-39 half-time lead, continued racking up baskets in the third quarter.
Almost all players got on the scoreboard, including 20-year-old debutant Muhammad Amirul, who contributed seven points.
Surabaya were no match for the Slingers’ speed and agility, while their defence was practically non-existent, allowing their opponents to chalk up a 56-point lead going into the last quarter.
Neo fielded an all-local line-up for the last 10 minutes as Americans Kentrell Barkley, Xavier Alexander and Chanceler Gettys turned cheerleaders.
Treys from Tay Ding Loon, Justen Chiam and Mah capped off a dominant display by the Slingers.
Barkley recorded his second triple-double for the Slingers with a game-high 35 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists, followed by Gettys (22-10-4) and Alexander (15-10-13).
Tay was the highest-scoring local with 18 points, followed by Mah (17) and Lim (12). Chiam (11) and Delvin Goh (10) also hit double digits.
Tay, 28, was proud of his juniors for holding their own, saying: “It really felt great (being part of an all-local line-up) and I felt that all the locals were ready to play today.
“The future is really bright for the Slingers.
“Looking at their confidence, I believe this next generation will bring the Slingers further.”
The Slingers are fourth in the eight-team ABL with 18 points and a 7-4 record, behind leaders NS Matrix Malaysia (20 points), Saigon Heat and Hong Kong Eastern (19 each).
Neo was happy with the win, but noted that the team still must improve defensively, especially the local players, who let in 26 points in the last quarter.
He said: “They ran hard and pushed the ball well... It was good for the locals to play together and this will help them build their confidence moving forward.”
He added that the team will now review footage of their matches and make adjustments ahead of a crucial final leg in Vietnam from Feb 12 to 17.
They have to remain in the top four to qualify for the semi-finals and Neo is targeting at least two wins from three in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Slingers will play the Bangkok Tigers (Feb 12), Saigon Heat (Feb 15) and Philippine team Zamboanga Valientes (Feb 16).
They beat the Tigers (111-69) and Heat (84-83) in previous meetings but collapsed 87-79 against the Valientes at home.
Tay believes their dominant victory will give them confidence ahead of their trip to Vietnam in two days.
He said: “The result was very satisfying and it’s a boost of morale going to Vietnam.
“We did well defensively, but now we have to improve on our communication and carrying out our team offence.”