In a rematch of last year’s Semifinals series, the Macau Black Bears began their campaign on the right track, disposing of the Mono Vampire Basketball Club 106-100 inside Stadium 29 in Bangkok City, Thailand.
The Black Bears leaned on a terrific debut from World Import Ryan Watkins, filling in for veteran Justin Howard as the team’s center this season. Watkins punished Mono Vampire continuously in the paint, rumbling for a monster double-double of 29 points and 23 rebounds. Part of the rebounding totals was 13 offensive boards, a sign of the big man’ terrific motor in the paint.
“I just did whatever I have to do to help my team win,” Watkins said.
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The team’s duo of league MVPs in Anthony Tucker and Mikh McKinney showed that they were in great form to defend their individual awards, as they also churned out splendid performances. Tucker totaled 28 points, 11 assists and a steal, while McKinney had an all-around performance of 16 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists.
The big question facing Mono Vampire with the exit of World Import Sam Deguara was how would the team make up for his absence in the middle. With the team opting to go with two guards in Jason Brickman and Marcus Keene, as well as forward Mike Singletary, Mono Vampire opted to build a team with pace and a ton of shooting at every position.
“Realizing that they didn’t have a big man inside, I tried to take advantage inside,” added Watkins.
Though the score at the half was 52-51 in favor of Macau, things would change in the 3rd quarter. The Black Bears attacked the paint relentlessly, and looked for Watkins, who had a size advantage over everyone on the other end. Coupled with consistent perimeter shooting, the Black Bears broke open the game and entered the final period with a 13 point lead, 84-71.
The Black Bears stretched the lead to as many as 16 points off free throws from Lai Ka Tong, threatening to pull away for good. However Mono fought back into the game, behind the relentless attack of Singletary and Keene. A huge run would get the home team to within 6 points, with 35 seconds remaining in the game. But the Black Bears would prove steadier down the stretch, as free throws from Tucker and Nathan Yu sealed the deal for the visiting squad.
Keene led the way for Mono Vampire, tallying 30 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists, while Singletary had 28 points and 18 rebounds. Moses Morgan also had an excellent debut for Thailand, asa he chipped in 20 points on 5/7 from beyond the arc.
History was also made in the second quarter of the game, as Jason Brickman set a new league record for most assists in ABL history. Brickman finished with 10 dimes in the evening, however his team would fall short in the end.
“Mono is a great team,” added Watkins. “They made it to the championship last year, so we just wanted to come out and get this win.”
Both teams will play again on November 21 with Mono Vampire hosting the Singapore Slingers and Macau Black Bears visiting the Wolf Warriors in Zhuhai.