For a second straight year in the Merlion Cup, the Singapore Slingers kept close to the Shanghai Sharks. For the second straight time, the Sharks were able to pull away, dropping the Slingers out of the playoffs 73-67.
The Sharks did not have Jimmer Freddete’s scoring to lean on this year, as the superstar had been benched with a knee injury. Instead, they had to get balanced production from the entire team. Six of the Sharks players finished the game with at least 8 points.
The Singapore Slingers were facing another difficult challenge against the Shanghai Sharks, but they were ready after going up against the Adelaide 36ers the day before. The Sharks jumped out to a fast-paced game led by speedy point guard Luo Hanchen and took a 15-8 lead midway through the first quarter. Despite finding themselves back-pedalling and trailing on the scoreboard, the Slingers were able to fight their way back into the game. After a Wei Long three-pointer and a three-point play by Ryan Wright, the Slingers finally took their first lead of the game. The Sharks managed to get back on top 18-16 before the end of the first quarter, but it was clear that this was not going to be an easy win for neither team.
By putting in Zhang Zhaoxu and Tseng Wen-Ting to start the second quarter, the Sharks shifted to play a bigger lineup. The Slingers didn’t back down from the size and countered by getting the ball to Ryan Wright down low. Wright responded with 4 straight points to knot up the game once again at 23. The Slingers regained momentum when Desmond Oh drilled in a three to take the lead. The Slingers clinged on and dragged the pace by drawing 7 fouls from the Sharks, pushing the visiting team to frustration. The game was still being evenly played with the Sharks in the lead, 36-33.
Nick Minnerath sat out the first two games of the tournament and was having a slow start with his new team. However, he was slowly awakening in third quarter and helped push the Sharks lead up to 10 points. Surprisingly for the Chinese club, their temper built up with their lead and they picked up two technical fouls in two straight possessions to allow the Slingers back into the game. Another momentum swinging three by Wei Long got the Slngers to within 43-41 and the teams started trading baskets back and forth from there. Despite a barrage of threes from Alexander and Wei Long, the Sharks were able to hold on to their 3 point lead heading into the 4th quarter. With only one quarter to go and a ticket to the Merlion Cup Finals on the line, the Sharks were holding on dearly to a 57-54 lead.
Cai Liang started the final quarter on a good note for the Sharks, dropping two straight corner threes followed by a mean stare down on his defender, Xavier Alexander. The Slingers managed only 2 points in the first five minutes and had to rally from down 68-56.
Despite the effort, the Slingers weren’t able to mount a comeback and fell to the Sharks for a second straight year, 73-67.
“Today I’m quite happy about the energy and the effort,” Coach Neo said after the game. “We’re starting to get better on help side defense. I think we really need to work on this more because it is our weakness. So after this game we will look at it, we will adjust, and definitely keep on working.”
The Slingers got another stellar performance from star import, Xavier Alexander, who had 26 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. This game saw Alexander shoot 3/6 from downtown as well, which gave a big offensive boost for his team.
“Hopefully he can sustain that,” Coach Neo says of his star’s performance. “Today he was a bit on fire so you never know. Overall he played hard.”
The surprise outside shooting performance by Alexander was gladly accepted by the Slingers, because they had been lacking a consistent outside shooter for the whole tournament.
“We really need a spot-up shooter because we lack of the shooting guard spot right now.”
The Slingers drop to play in the third place qualification game against Jeonju KCC Egis from Korea on Sunday 24th at 3:00 PM.