BEIRUT: Fadi al-Khatib and Jean Abdelnour each scored 25 points as Lebanon bounced back from defeat against the Philippines to beat China 89-69 in the preliminary round of the FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo.
Lebanon needed to win by more than 18 points to regain the top spot of Group A, and with just 40 seconds to go Khatib was reintroduced with Lebanon leading by 17.
“The Tiger” rushed to the basket and opened up space for American-born Garnett Thompson, who laid it in, drawing a foul in the process and converting an and one to extend the lead to 20 – enough for Lebanon to reclaim the top spot.
The Cedars were looking to overcome Saturday’s heavy loss to the Philippines (68-78) although their start to the match against China’s second team was far from promising as they trailed by 9 points at the end of the first quarter (15-24).
Lebanon managed to close the gap just two minutes into the second quarter through two Karl Sarkis three pointers, with another three coming from Elie Stephan, as Ghassan Sarkis’ side wrestled back the lead to wrap up the first half (40-30).
Lebanon looked even stronger in the second half, with Khatib and Abdelnour clinical in their finishing as they scored a combined total of 50 points.
A blow to the head forced Abdelnour to miss the last five minutes.
Thompson converted a superb two pointer in the fourth with minutes remaining to give Lebanon a comfortable lead (81-63), making up for earlier committing two fouls.
Khatib almost had a triple double with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists. Abdelnour added 25 points and 7 rebounds, while Stephan had 14 points including 4/10 from the 3-point line. Thompson had 13 points and 8 rebounds, and Sarkis 6 points.
This year marks China’s first appearance in the FIBA Asia Cup, fielding a relatively young side as selectors look ahead to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
They were without veteran players such as Yi Jian Lian, Sun Yue, Liu Wei and others.
Lebanon play Uzbekistan Tuesday after a day’s rest, while China play back-to-back matches against Uzbekistan Monday and Macau the following day.
When asked about Khatib’s performance, Lebanon coach Ghassan Sarkis was frank: “What can I say. His performance speaks for itself.
“The difference between [Saturday] and this game was that today [Sunday] we were a team. I don’t want to talk about whether we were better than them [the Philippines], but if we were better it certainly didn’t show on the court.
“I think we have learned our lessons from there,” he said.