BEIRUT: Lebanese champions Riyadi won their first ever Asian Champions Cup Sunday thanks to an impressive 91-82 victory over two-time holders Mahram of Iran.
Fadi al-Khatib was Riyadi’s hero, scoring 41 points as well as the crucial late free throws that put Riyadi over the finishing line and secured their first and Lebanon’s fourth win – Sagesse have won the tournament three times – in Asia’s biggest basketball competition.
Riyadi started the game with focus, playing tough defense and forcing their opponents to commit a couple of early turnovers to take a 6-0 lead two minutes into the game. The Iranians quickly found their tempo, however, hitting some mid-range shots to tie the game at 10 with three minutes left in the quarter. The Lebanese side showed greater determination as they ended the first period with a 17-14 lead in their favor.
At the start of the second quarter, and despite having Cheik Samb on the bench with two early fouls, Mahram were able to stay in touch with their opponents and take a one point lead with four minutes left in the quarter thanks to Samad Nikkah’s great shooting percentage from inside as well as from outside the 3-point line. At this stage both teams started trading baskets, trying to focus more on their defensive performance as turnovers started to become more numerous from both sides. But with Nikkah being unstoppable scoring 23 points in 20 minutes, the Iranians headed to the locker rooms with a 39-38 advantage at half time.
After the half time break, Riyadi jumped into an early lead taking a five point advantage thanks to Khatib and Jean Abdel Nour. Midway through the period, Mahram were dealt a huge blow as Samb committed his fourth personal foul, forcing his coach to put him on the bench again, but Riyadi couldn’t take advantage, as the Iranian team kept their one point lead, 58-57 before going into the fourth quarter.
At the start of the final quarter, Riyadi put on an accomplished offensive performance, rotating the ball well, which led to three made shots from behind the 3-point line, as they gained a five point lead, just two minutes into the quarter. With tension getting higher, Mahram got themselves back into the game through Hamed Afagh’s 3-pointer to tie the game at 75 with four minutes left in the game. At this stage, Riyadi players raised their level and focus, and thanks to their experience, were able to take a commanding seven points lead with just one minute to go as they clinched their first ever Asian Championship with a final score of 91-82.
Khatib, who scored 41 points in the encounter, was named the best player of the tournament.
The trophy has been a long time coming for coach Fouad Abou Chacra and Riyadi. “I have it on my CV finally,” he said after the game.