SINGAPORE: The Singapore Slingers on Wednesday (Sep 21) opened their Merlion Cup campaign with a comfortable 79-71 win over Taiwan’s Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor.
The home side rode a hot start that saw them 45-28 ahead at half time, and despite being outscored in the latter half, the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) runners-up held out for a Group A win that will likely put them through to the semi-finals.
Group A’s other team, China’s Shanghai Sharks, are the tournament’s top fancy, and will open their campaign against Kinmen on Thursday.
Slingers’ coach Neo Beng Siang was happy with the win but less pleased with the turnout at the OCBC Arena for the tournament’s opening game.
“We’ve brought back the tournament after 20 years, and I was expecting the turnout to match what we get for the ABL,” said Neo, noting the many empty seats in the stands.
He was also concerned that the team had slackened off in the second half.
“We were a bit sloppy in the third quarter, especially on the offensive end, and were not really executing as a team,” he noted. “Our big guys were not getting enough touches until late in the game.”
Despite the coach’s observation, the Slingers’ two American imports carried the bulk of the scoring. Xavier Alexander top-scored with 21 points, while Justin Howard had 20.
Local boys Wong Wei Long (13 points) and Leon Kwek (10 points) impressed, while Filipino point guard Jeff Viernes, who is on trial with view of a contract for the coming ABL season, chimed in with seven points after starting from the bench.
Asked if he was surprised that the Slingers led from start to finish, Neo said Kinmen were also in pre-season preparations and were trying out combinations to see which players suited their team.
“Of course we wanted to win this game and get ourselves into the semi-finals,” Neo said. “But we also need to continue to improve with every game and prepare for the upcoming ABL season.”
Group B opened with a win for the Mighty Sports, as the Filipino side beat the Seoul Samsung Thunder 92-87. Seoul will play ABL Champions the Westports Malaysia Dragons next.