Mighty Sports-Creative Pacific warded off a late, spirited challenge from AS Sale of Morocco to eke out an 80-76 win and forge a mouth-watering title showdown with defending champion Al Riyadi of Lebanon in the 31st Dubai International Basketball Championship late Friday at Shabab Al Ahli Club in the United Arab Emirates.
Renaldo Balkman, who suited up for Puerto Rico in last year’s FIBA World Cup in China, played like a man on a mission, barreling his way to a game-high 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting apart from grabbing five boards inside 34 minutes of action in the highly-physical game.
“It was a tough game and good thing Renaldo carried us to victory,” said coach Charles Tiu. “We have to be consistent from start to end if we are to win the championship.”
Like Mighty Sports-Creative Pacific, Al Riyadi experienced some scary moments before pulling off a pulsating 91-90 win later in the night.
Mighty Sports-Creative Pacific, which is backed by Oriental Game, Go for Gold, Gatorade and Discovery Primea, and Al Riyadi were to meet for the title late Saturday night.
Mighty is gunning for its second straight international title after winning last year’s Jones Cup via a grand sweep.
“I am proud with our players for playing with great resolve. We have already bettered our performance last year,” said Mighty Sports owner Alexander Wongchuking.
The team produced only one win in eight games in its initial foray in the annual tournament four years ago before finishing third last year.
Former Gilas naturalized player Andray Blatche turned in his sixth straight double-double with 17 boards and 11 boards while Mikey Williams scattered three triples for 12 points.
Ex-LaSalle player Jamie Malonzo had only six points this time but wowed the crowd with another monster dunk in the fourth
The PH posted a 25-15 lead after first quarter and dictated the tempo the rest of the way.
But just as everybody thought the game was already sewn up after Blatche came through with a power play for a 78-66 lead with a little over three minutes left, the Moroccans rallied that made the game more interesting.
Good thing for Mighty Sports, Sale missed a couple of open shots late in the game.
Mighty Sports 80 – Balkman 29, Blatche 17, Williams 12, Ravena 7, Malonzo 6, Kendrick5, Moore 4, Gomez de Liano 0, Go 0, Belga 0.
AS Sale 76 – Najah 20, Kourdou 20, Slimane 14, Arnold 11, Elmasbahi 6, Almahini 5.
Quarterscores:25-15, 44-34, 66-55, 80-76.