Al Riyadi keep mastery of Sagesse, close in on Group A top seed

DOHA (Qatar) - Al Riyadi authored the latest chapter of the famed Beirut Derby in their favor yet again following a 95-86 conquest of Sagesse to stay perfect in the FIBA West Asia Super League (WASL) Final 8 before a solid crowd at the Lusail Multipurpose Hall, Monday night.

The reigning two-time West Asia League champions took full advantage of Karim Ezzedine's ejection with 1:10 left in the third quarter, attacking the gaping hole left by the opposing forward's absence to seize control en route to gaining the Group A lead with a 2-0 record.

"Always, it's a big win against our rivals. But what makes it better is that even if we are in Qatar, we didn't feel that we are playing away from Manara," said head coach Ahmad Farran. "Big credit to the Lebanese fans. I believe that they are the winners."

Jonathan Simmons showed the way with 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in the victory that put them closer to securing the top spot of the 'Group of Death,' which they could get with a win against defending champions Manama (0-2) on Wednesday at 21:00 local time.

The STEP AHEAD Player of the Game joined hands with Amir Saoud in the pivotal 8-0 run to finish the third in their favor, 70-67, as they exploited the absence of Ezzedine, who was having a good showing with 14 points until he got thrown out for incurring his second technical foul.

Later on, the two would connect on back-to-back triples to push their lead to 76-69 with 8:15 to go in the final chapter, before Thon Maker and the rest of the squad helped to make sure that they stay ahead. Their lead rose to as high as 14 points late in the match.

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Maker finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds with 5 blocks as the seasoned forward swatted shots left and right, and coupled it with a finger wag a la Dikembe Mutombo.

Saoud fired 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists, while Wael Arakji added 14 points as the long-time teammates combined for 4 of the team's 7 treys in their win over the same club they beat in the West Asia Semis and in the recent Lebanese Basketball Championship Finals.

"We had a slow start but we were able to capitalize on their weakness and on their foul trouble to come back to the game. Thankfully, we won," said Arakji.

Cleanthony Early, on the other hand, had 25 points and 9 rebounds for a Sagesse side that gradually collapsed following Ezzedine's exit. Jonathan Gibson had 16 on 18 shots.

Ahmad Ibrahim was the only other double-digit scorer with 12 for Sagesse, which couldn't follow up their upset of the defending WASL champions on opening day, falling to 1-1.

Now, they turn their attention to BC Astana on Wednesday as well at 18:00 local time in a battle of 1-1 teams after the latter kept Manama winless earlier in the night.

Markell Johnson found his second wind to help his side take down the Bahraini crew, 122-117, in a historic triple overtime affair for their breakthrough win of the contest.

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The star guard reset the Final 8 records for points and assists with 42 and 11, together with 7 rebounds as he powered the Central Asia representatives in the extra periods to push the defending champions on the brink of elimination with a 0-2 record in Group A.

Despite suffering a minor ankle tweak in the third, the STEP AHEAD Player of the Gameproduced 11 of his team's 13 points in the third OT, outscoring their counterparts (8 points) by his lonesome to ensure a strong close-out to the game that lasted for almost 3 hours.

Johnson shot 16-of-32 from the field, spiked a quartet of 3-pointers, and also tallied 2 steals and 1 block to submit a full line as he starred in their solid bounce-back from that crushing 101-69 defeat they absorbed at the hands of Al Riyadi barely 24 hours ago.

"Man, I'm exhausted right now," he said, smiling. "But we really wanted this one because yesterday, we kinda gave up a tough one, losing by 30 coming into the tournament."

"We really wanted this one," added Johnson, who was responsible for all game-tying baskets to keep Astana alive. "It was one of those games where [we did] whatever it takes to win."

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His efforts, furthermore, made sure that the contributions of others won't go for naught. Devin Davis, for one, made 19 points as he fired 3-of-4 from beyond the arc.

Shakur Juiston nearly had a double-double with 16 points and 8 rebounds, while Rustam Murzagaliyev and Vadim Chsherbak added 14 and 10 points, respectively.

Together, the team from Kazakshtan withstood a Manama side that was compelled to play with an all-local lineup in the last two OT periods as all of their reinforcements - Sir'Dom Pointer, Travin Thibodeaux, and Devin Ebanks - fouled out of the match.

Pointer left the game with 33 points and 8 rebounds. Thibodeaux almost had a rare 20-20 outing with 19 and 18 alongside 6 assists, while Ebanks chipped in 16 points.

Ahmed Haji scored 22 points as the floor general tried to will his side in the must-win. His free throws tied the game at 113-all with exactly 4 minutes left to play, but that proved to be their last hurrah as Johnson went on to pull off the finishing blows to seal the deal.



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