Mono Vampire Basketball Club completed the semifinal cast of ABL Season 8 as they swept their quarterfinal duel against the Singapore Slingers with an 85-82 victory at the OCBC Arena.
It was almost a mirror of what transpired in Game 1 at the Stadium 29 in Bangkok. With the seconds ticking away in the fourth quarter, the Slingers had the chance to send in into an overtime period. In Game 1, AJ Mandani missed at the buzzer. In Game 2, it was Xavier Alexander who came up short.
With the gutsy road victory, Mono Vampire earned the right to challenge the top-ranked Chong Son Kung Fu Basketball Club in the semis with the series starting on Wednesday.
For the entire game, the three-point shooting of Mono Vampire was the difference maker for them. Three early triples from Paul Zamar and Mike Singletary allowed them to grab an early lead in the first quarter. More long-range bombs allowed them to stay within striking distance against the slingers in the second and third quarters before finally making their move in the fourth.
Chitchai Ananti led the late Mono Vampire rally by riffling off three triples in the first four minutes of the final canto to turn a 63-58 deficit into a 74-67 lead.
Tha Thai team then set a new record for the most number of threes made in an ABL playoff game as Singletary connected with a tough shot with 1:44 left in the game for an 82-77 advantage.
However, the Slingers refused to fall without a fight as Alexander converted on a short jump shot before assisting Mandani for a game-tying three. The problem for Singapore was on the other side of the floor. They forced a miss from Zamar but gave up an offensive rebound leading to two made free throws for Jason Brickman.
After a miss coming from Alexander, the Slingers once again allowed Mono Vampire to grab a crucial offensive rebound that gave Singletary the chance to ice the game. He missed the first free-throw which gave Singapore one last chance.
With 5.3 seconds remaining, Alexander caught the inbound pass from Chris Charles. The talented World Import drew the attention of two defenders in Brickman and Singletary, allowing Mandani to get some separation at the corner.
Alexander, however, decided to take the shot himself even if he was under duress with the shot only hitting the backboard. He sat on the floor as the buzzer sounded, finishing the game with 25 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, and two steals as their streak of making it to the ABL Finals ends at two years in a row.
“I trust Xavier’s judgment,” said Mandani after the game. “I thought I was open but he took a shot that he can make. I’m not going to question his decision because we would not even have gotten to that point if it wasn’t for him.”
Charles had 20 points but only came up with six rebounds as he had a tough time dealing with Sam Deguara’s size while also being in foul trouble for much of the match.
Mono Vampire claimed the victory with a very simple game plan. They sent the ball down low to Deguara, which attracted Singapore’s defense. Then they spaced the floor with shooters so the big man can kick it out to multiple options.
Singletary led Mono Vampire with 29 points as he shot 6 of 9 from the three-point range. Zamar and Ananti combined for 30 big points on 8 of 12 shooting from downtown. Deguara was a rock for the men in orange with 15 points, 17 rebounds, and five blocks.
“We had a good run this season but it ended badly,” said Singapore head coach Neo Beng Siang. “I thought we played well in this game and I’m proud of my players but we just committed some silly mistakes in the endgame that cost us.”
Asked which team he thought would go all the way to the top, the Slingers’ head coach said it’s an even playing field between the remaining four teams.
“All of those teams can beat anyone,” he said. “It will just depend on the effort their put in the game and how they follow their coach’s strategy.”