Lebanon opens Stankovic Cup with easy victory over Philippines

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Lebanon got off to a winning start in its much anticipated first game of The Stankovic Cup beating the Philippines 74-59 at the Ghazir Stadium on Saturday.

Lebanon’s superior shooting and patience comfortably overcame a spirited and overly-physical Philippines side who threatened only in the third quarter.

Back-to-back three pointers from top scorer Roni Fahed set Lebanon on the way and set the tone for a game of sharp long distance shooting from both sides and Fahed in particular.

The Philippines attempted to stifle the superior Lebanese attack from the start with some success but the introduction of the dynamic Ali Mahmoud at point guard gave Lebanon greater penetration around the basket, culminating in a slick move from Mahmoud pivoted around the indomitable Jackson Vroman, creating an easy layup for Elias Rustom to make the scores 18-11 at the end of the first quarter.

The scoreline very rarely got tighter thereafter as Lebanon coach Tab Baldwin called on his players to provide greater defensive structure against Philippine penetration during the first quarter break while the Philippines’ coach Rajko Toroman warned his players of the threat of Ali Mahmoud’s driving runs. Both teams adhered to their coach’s demands but Lebanon’s greater depth in quality allowed for the hosts to extend its lead by a further four points in a low scoring second quarter.

Despite the introduction of fit-again Fadi al-Khatib, Lebanon was only able to score 13 points in the second quarter, including a dry spell of three minutes following Khatib’s entry on to the field.

Khatib said after the game that he felt his fitness was good despite his performance showing clear signs of fatigue and a lack of match practice.

“I’m definitely out of touch, but physically I am back,” Khatib said, “Our goal is a good performance at Turkey [in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, to which Lebanon have earned a wildcard]. Therefore, I am positive of getting fully back into form very soon.”

Lebanon held a commanding 11 point lead of 31-20 at the half with Lebanon’s superior rebounding and stealing ratios a key reason for its dominance.

The outcome of the game eventually hinged on an eventful third quarter, where a preposterous string of three pointers by Joseph Casio of the Philippines and some complacent Lebanese attacking brought the scores as close as 36-38 half-way through the quarter.

But the Philippines surrendered its assertive play with a string of needless fouls that allowed Lebanon’s sharp free throwers to eventually pull the scores back to a seven point deficit. Roni Fayed’s metronomic three point shooting and Ali Mahmoud’s renewed vigor brought the scoreline back to normality as Lebanon regained its 11 point advantage by the end of the quarter.

Flagrant fouling on Lebanon’s Vroman, Mahmoud and Fayed in the fourth quarter summed up the Philippines’ frustration at having surrendered the initiative as Lebanon turned the screw, eventually running out comfortable winners at 74-59, a victory only marred by Jackson Vroman’s consistent temper loss at the Philippines’ aggressive style that eventually saw the center removed from the game.

Roni Fahed top-scored with 23 points while Ali Mahmoud grabbed a creditable 12 points in the second half including a mesmeric run through the entire Philippine defense before scoring an easy layup. Vroman lead the defensive stats with 10 rebounds and two blocks.

Lebanon continued its winning run over the Philippines – who haven’t beaten The Cedars in over a decade – as well as extending its competitive winning record to a very respectable nine wins in its last 11 games in all competitions.

Coach Baldwin had words of satisfaction after the game, but was realistic in his assessment of the situation concerning Fadi Khatib’s return.

“We all know Fadi has a great heart as a player, and it definitely showed today. But as was obvious he is yet to get his touch and rhythm,” Baldwin said.

“But considering the fact he is back on court and trying out his best is an encouraging sign for us on our path to Turkey.”

Joseph Casio, with 15 points, and Marnel Baracel, with 14 points, were the leading scorers on the Philippines side.

Lebanon sits joint top of Group B after Qatar beat Syria 83-75 while Kazakhstan and Japan share the lead in Group B following wins over Iraq and Chinese Taipei respectively.

Click here for Pictures from Day 1 at CarWash Cafe:

http://www.beiruting.com/album/1074

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