NIGHT ONE of the FIBA Men’s Asian Qualifiers saw Lebanon storm home in the final two quarters in its match against New Zealand in Beirut early on Friday morning.
The first batch of matches kicked off in the early hours of November 11, and it looked extremely likely that the Tall Blacks were going to claim their first win after an impressive opening half of play. However, it was the Cedars that controlled the second half of play, finally putting it together on both ends of the court to claim a 77-65 win.
Ali Haidar was the pick of the bunch for Lebanon in its win, producing a game-high 21 points, on 9/19 shooting from the field. His ability to score inside the paint but also stretch the floor and knock down a couple of triples was huge in Lebanon’s comeback victory. Also impressing were Jad Khalil (11 points), Gayk Gyokchyan and Karim Zeinoun (10 points apiece).
Tohi Smith-Milner brought his NBL and NZNBL experience to the forefront, particularly in the first half when the Tall Blacks were on top. He finished the match with 17 points (5/12 FG, 4/10 3PT) and will play just as crucial a role when New Zealand eventually chalk up its first win.
Lebanon (77) def. New Zealand (65)
Three-point shooting was where the game was decided for a large portion, with the Tall Blacks actually proving more effective from inside the arc. However, the Cedars shot nine per cent better from behind the arc, gaining their composure in the second half to catch fire from behind the arc, helping boost a match-winning lead.
The victors were also better at sharing the basketball, producing 21 assists to New Zealand’s nine, always looking to push the pace and make the extra pass to create a better shot. The result was also influenced by the offensive rebounding capability of Lebanon, who pulled down 14 boards from its own misses, creating second chance points in the process.
It was a close game in the dying stages of the final term, with the Tall Blacks still within a basket with just over a minute to play. However, they could not produce the game-tying basket, with Smith-Milner missing a three to do so. Zeinoun and Haidar each produced daggers of their own, sealing a terrific come-from-behind triumph.
In the other games for night one, the Philippines proved too good for Jordan with a 74-66 win, while Saudi Arabia claimed a thumping 31-point win over India.