The defending champions Hong Kong Eastern Basketball Club made a successful season debut, as they withstood a furious late rally by Alab Pilipinas to win 92-89 in the Mall of Asia Arena, Manila Philippines.
Leading the way for Hong Kong was reigning World Import MVP Marcus Elliott who totaled 25 points along with 8 rebounds and 9 assists. He shook off the effects of cramps late in the game to keep Hong Kong ahead of the Philippine-based squad. The team also got a tremendous boost from debuting Heritage Import Christian Standhardinger’s game high 26 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists.
“It was so close,” Standhardinger said after the victory. “They really got everything out of us.”
Playing in front of a mammoth crowd at the MOA Arena, Hong Kong would silence the Filipino fans repeatedly as they frustrated Alab Pilipinas in the first half. Beginning the second half with an 11 point deficit, Alab Pilipinas leaned on the combined efforts of World Import Ivan Johnson and Bobby Ray Parks to stay within striking distance of a Hong Kong squad that was firing on all cylinders. Standhardinger and Heritage Import MVP Tyler Lamb shouldered the load for Hong Kong in the third period, which saw them go up by as many as 15 points 63-48 at the 7:09 mark of the quarter.
But Alab Pilipinas would keep chipping away at Hong Kong’s lead, as Parks, World Import Reggie Okosa and Josh Urbiztondo provided ample firepower to finish the quarter strong and only go down 73-68 entering the final period.
A booming triple from Urbiztondo started the fourth quarter, and a swooping Parks layup and subsequent free throw gave Alab the lead for the first time since the first quarter.
However that would be the final time that the home team would have a taste of the lead, as the defending champions rolled up their sleeves behind the 1-2 punch of Elliott and Standhardinger. The team also got valuable contrbutions from 43-year old import Ryan Moss, who scored back to back baskets. The two big men of Hong Kong frustrated Alab’s Johnson who fouled out with 3:23 remaining. The athletic tip-in from Elliott gave Hong Kong breahting room via a 87-79 lead.
But buoyed by a wild crowd, Alab Pilipinas put together one last run. A 7-1 run in the final few minutes got Alab Pilipinas to within two points, 88-86 with 34 seconds left, forcing the Eastern Basketball Team to sue for time and execute.
And that’s exactly what they did, as Standhardinger scored on a mid-range jumper, to give them a four point lead 90-86 once again. Parks finished an and-one play to get his team to within one point with 10 seconds remaining, but Standhardinger delivered the killer blow off a Lamb dish with 5 seconds remaining. Alab had one last crack at tying the game, but with no timeouts left Urbiztondo was forced to launch a halfcourt shot that almost went in before eventually circling in and out of the basket, securing the win for the visiting Hong Kong squad.
“We stick together because it’s hard,” Standhardinger said. “You can lose your focus, you can lose your emotions and get frustrated but we kept going. We kept working hard.”
One of the main reasons that Alab Pilipinas was unable to pick up the victory was their slow start in the first half. Succumbing repeatedly to the pressure defense of Hong Kong, they coughed up 15 turnovers in the first two quarters, which Hong Kong turned into transition baskets. Behind the relentless pressure of Li Kee, Elliott and Lamb, the Eastern Basketball Club were able to outscore Alab Pilipinas in both the 1st and 2nd quarter by six points and five points respectively.
Lamb was stellar all game long for Hong Kong, as he contributed 23 points on 3/6 from the perimeter along with 3 assists and 4 steals. Moss had a near double double with 10 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Okosa paced Alab Pilipinas with a rock solid ABL debut of 28 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks. Parks led all local scorers with 17 points, 16 of them coming in the second half. Urbiztondo had 14 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists in the losing effort.
Alab Pilipinas will look to bounce back as they take on the Singapore Slingers on November 29. Hong Kong will have a long break before taking on the CLS Knights on December 10.