By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
Head coach Charles Tiu was furious after his Philippine-based Strong Group hoops squad got eliminated in the ongoing 32nd Dubai International Basketball Championship last February 3, 2023.
Composed of former NBA talents and Filipino collegiate superstars, Strong Group not only crashed out in the do-or-die quarterfinals of the tournament but also failed to defend their championship title.
Strong Group suffered a disappointing loss to the Al Riyadi Beirut hoops club, 106-97, and sent the Filipinos home packing in Dubai.
Moments after the stunning loss, the head coach immediately took his sentiments to Twitter.
Tiu expressed his frustration on the social media platform when he slammed the officiating of the game, tweeting: “Painful and frustrating loss for us. Couldn’t stop Saoud today no matter what we did. Just too experienced for our team right now. Offense wasn’t the problem but couldn’t get stops. Didn’t help that we got cooked badly. I don’t know what game the refs were watching.”
Already in a crucial spot after a previous loss at the hands of Lebanon’s Dynamo several days ago, Strong Group was relegated to a knockout match against Al Riyadi who had plenty of firepower in their squad.
Present in Al Riyadi are four members of the Lebanese basketball national team that took down Gilas Pilipinas in the recent FIBA Asia qualifying windows.
Savvy veteran guard Amir Saoud remained to be the PHL’s kryptonite after exploding for 41 points built from 7/12 shooting from the three-point area.
Backstopping Saoud is probably the most famous Lebanese national team member Wael Arakji, the man who accepted the challenge of going toe-to-toe with the Jordan Clarkson-led Gilas squad.
Arakji provided steady numbers and contributed 13 points and four assists while AJ Majok chipped in 13 points in the win.
Al Riyadi immediately left Strong Group behind with a 33-19 advantage in the first canto and continued their scoring efficiency behind Saoud’s hot performance.
Strong Group finally got themselves together late in the third quarter and trimmed their deficit to just five, 63-58.
Shabazz Muhammad once again answered the call for Strong Group after carrying the offensive load in the fourth quarter that helped the PHL deadlock the ball game at 81-all.
However, Al Riyadi would counter and uncork a momentum-clinching 14-2 run in the last three minutes of the ball game.
Muhammad topped all Strong Group scorers for the second-straight time after tallying 27 big points followed by Renaldo Balkman who got 16 points.
Despite his disappointment with the officiating, coach Tiu still thanked all those who came to the playing venue and vowed for a better outing next conference.
“Thank you to our Filipino fans for supporting us. We are sorry for the loss. We will come back stronger for sure,” Tiu posted.